Recent theories of compliance predict that, apart from utilitarian considerations, individual decisions to respect or break the law account for virtuous motives and non-utilitarian willingness to promote the social good. We test whether empirical evidence resonates with these theories by collecting in a natural setting data on cyclists’ decisions to run a red traffic light. We consider different situations where non-compliance is costly but without risk and material deterrence incentives from legal sanctions remain constant. The only difference between the situations lies in who is observing the cyclists’ decision at the traffic light at the intersection of a footpath with the cycle track. We find that about 60% of cyclists ignore the red traffic light when there is the opportunity to do so. This frequency does not change substantially when adult bystanders are observing at the pedestrian traffic light. Interestingly, the violation frequency drops to about 10% when children are present. Robustness checks rule out the suggestion that this change is driven by concerns for childrens’ unpredictable actions, or by the simultaneous presence of other adult bystanders. In a vignette study, we disentangle the cyclists’ motives. Results confirm the “role-model effect" on compliance. The majority of participants self-report that willingness to educate and be a good example is the most important reason for their decision to abide by the law, hence supporting the empirical observation that non-utilitarian motives can be an important determinant of compliance decisions.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Behavioral Law and Economics, Social Norms, Social Welfare, Virtuous Motives
JEL Basic Areas of Law: General (jel K10), Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law (jel K42)
Persistent URL
Fabbri, M, & Hoeppner, S. (2017). Compliance Externalities and the Role Model Elect on Law Abidance: Field and Survey-Experimental Evidence. Retrieved from