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Posted by on Mar 17, 2015 in Government, International, Law, Society | 1 comment

One More Thing Finland Gets Right: Speeding Tickets

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Across the country and the globe, drivers are perpetually fighting what they believe to be a broken system when it comes to speeding fines, whilst governments and public service departments reassure citizens that their procedures are correct and accurate.

Nevertheless, there is a growing fear that the average individual is fair game for a complex and opaque revenue raising scheme that isn’t actually designed to protect motorists from other drivers on the roads.

A Mismatch Between Safety and Revenue

According to statistics published by American Traffic Solutions, we collectively lose $5.6 billion each month due to speeding-fatality related costs between 2007 and 2011 and speed was a contributing factor in 30.7 percent of all fatal incidents.

This is offset by the fact that only five percent of speeding tickets are contested in traffic court. Furthermore, the average annual revenue raised by a U.S. police officer issuing speeding tickets is $300,000 whereas the average cost of an infringement (including fees) is a mere $152.

If there is any correlation to be found, it is that speeding fines amount to big business. This is in part why the country of Finland has come up with a novel idea: to fine reckless drivers a proportional amount based on their current earnings. Finland is handily schooling the US in almost every aspect of modern life: quality and longevity of life, wealth distribution, education, healthcare, crime rate, and even the overall “quality” of their democracy. Frankly, it surprises me not at all to learn that they’re also thinking different about traffic violations.

Fixing Regressive Systems and Oppressive Practices

The majority of countries around the world implement regressive systems where auto-related infringements are concerned; what this means is that citizens pay standardized or flat rates, depending on the type of infraction committed.

In today’s modern age, where technological advancements have allowed for progressive ticketing procedures to be determined, it seems that only Finland is taking steps away from established and arguably outdated practices.

Impartiality and Leading by Example

In fact, the world seemed stunned to learn of a €54,000 infringement (approximately $57,192 USD) issued to Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman, who was recently pulled over by police in his home country for traveling at 65 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone.

Normally, such an incident would only attract a modest fine. However, when authorities cross-referenced the man’s identification against a federal taxpayer database and his income was determined to be €6.5 million, the amount was subsequently adjusted to an amount proportional with his income.

In practice, the calculations for determining the total sum are based off an offender’s disposable daily income, adjusted by a multiplier that works out the acceptable number of days the reckless driver must go without that income.

And while this may seem excessive to some, an earlier precedent was set when a Nokia executive was fined the equivalent of $103,000 in 2002. In fact, Finland, as the first country to embrace “progressive punishment,” has a long history of issuing day-fines: something the Finnish people seemingly support.

America’s Trials in Pursuing Progressive Punishment

Whilst other European countries such as Denmark, Austria, Sweden, France and Switzerland have also implement some sliding scales for speeding or traffic violations, America has been pretty hesitant to embrace the idea, despite trialing day fines in Staten Island in 1988.

While the findings were generally positive, a transition to this type of fine ultimately failed to gain much momentum, due in no small part to the fact that, at the time, a priority was placed upon incarceration as a form of punishment. Those now advocating the adoption of day fines cite overcrowding and the general lack of resources to process people for relatively minor offenses.

How Income Equality Affects the Effectiveness of Day Fines

It is also true that Finland has the capacity to support such measures, as the country’s distribution of wealth is much more even than is it in the U.S. and elsewhere. According to a recent article by the Huffington Post, America’s income equality ranks among the lowest of all developed nations.

This is not to say that the idea’s merits are inapplicable—rather that the timing must be right and the system must reverse the trends it has allowed to flourish over the past few years. In all likelihood, America’s speeding infringement process will gradually come to look more like that of Finland, and other countries may follow suit as a direct result. I suppose, too, that some of this would be a moot point if the US actually got serious about investing in public transportation and bike lanes (remember to stay safe!) on a local level. But until we have a better solution for reducing the number of traffic citations we necessarily have to levy against our own citizens, we can at least get to work making the system we already have a little bit fairer.

Ultimately, speeding tickets are issued to discourage reckless driving, and the benefits of progressive alternatives are such that the deterrent effect will work consistently across all levels of wealth and income—something that seems incredibly hard to argue with in today’s current economic climate.

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