Given the threats of our current 'risk society', there is an ever-increasing demand for safety regulation to counter the harmful effects of an equally growing number of dangerous activities. Claims for more safety and security abound, ranging from concerns about people killed in traffic accidents and consumers harmed by unsafe products to anxiety about environmental disasters (global warming) and terrorism. This state of affairs poses difficult issues for policy makers. While government resources are necessarily limited, demands for safety and security are in principle without bounds. It is thus unavoidable that difficult choices must be made and priorities must be set. The Law and Economics literature has developed a comprehensive normative framework to prescribe optimal legal policies when individuals behave rationally. It is well established that enforcement agents should not aim at a minimum level of violations of legal norms but at an optimal level. The main goal of this paper is to apply the insights from the Law and Economics literature on optimal law enforcement to the area of safety regulation. Our paper distinguishes between the form of the sanctions (monetary versus non-monetary), the role of private parties versus public agents in enforcement (e.g. group actions), the timing of the enforcement measures (preclusion, act-based sanctions and harm-based sanctions) and the division of competencies between central enforcement authorities and decentralized enforcement agencies. Furthermore, we discuss several criticisms on the rational choice model (especially related to terrorism) and briefly discuss compliance strategies as alternative approach to deterrence strategies.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
, , ,
Erasmus School of Law
Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics (RILE) Working Paper Series
Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics

van den Bergh, R.J, & Visscher, L.T. (2008). Optimal Enforcement of Safety Law (No. 2008/04). Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics (RILE) Working Paper Series. Erasmus School of Law. Retrieved from