Why the Chinese obey the law : case studies from transportation

TitleWhy the Chinese obey the law : case studies from transportation
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsJingkang Gao
Academic DepartmentDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering
DegreeMaster of Science in Transportation
Date Published06/2016
UniversityMassachusetts Institute of Technology
CityCambridge, MA

Why do people obey the law? Economists take the instrumental perspective, according to which compliance is based on tangible gains and losses to the individual; policymakers can obtain compliance through increasing the certainty or severity of punishment for violations. Psychologists have added the normative perspective to the compliance literature. According to the normative perspective, compliance is based on internalized social values irrespective of utility changes to the individual. Two important types of normative motivations explored in this thesis are the perceived legitimacy of the authorities and the perceived morality of the laws. This thesis contains three papers that address compliance in the context of transport in China. The first paper examines compliance with a wide set of laws and regulations from public disturbance to distracted driving and explores which set of evaluations determine legitimacy. The results show that morality is the most important motivation, that the severity of punishment is more influential than the perceived risk of apprehension, and that legitimacy is determined by procedural fairness. The second paper examines compliance with twelve traffic laws. The results also show that morality is the most important motivation, that legitimacy influences younger drivers while safety influences older drivers, and that there is a social norms gap between distracted driving laws and conventionally studied traffic laws. The third paper examines compliance with the Shanghai license plate auction policy. The results again while normative, instrumental, and image motivations influence compliance for local hukou holders, only instrumental motivations influence compliance for non-local hukou holders. The findings contribute to the research on compliance and provide potential recommendations for authorities and policymakers.