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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 17 2015, @11:09AM   Printer-friendly
from the cheaper-to-pay-someone-else-to-drive dept.

Joe Pinsker writes at The Atlantic that Finnish businessman Reima Kuisla was recently caught going 65 miles per hour in a 50 zone in his home country and ended up paying a fine of $56,000. The fine was so extreme because in Finland, some traffic fines, as well as fines for shoplifting and violating securities-exchange laws, are assessed based on earnings—and Kuisla's declared income was €6.5 million per year. Several years ago another executive was fined the equivalent of $103,000 for going 45 in a 30 zone on his motorcycle.

Finland’s system for calculating fines is relatively simple: It starts with an estimate of the amount of spending money a Finn has for one day, and then divides that by two—the resulting number is considered a reasonable amount of spending money to deprive the offender of. Then, based on the severity of the crime, the system has rules for how many days the offender must go without that money. Going about 15 mph over the speed limit gets you a multiplier of 12 days, and going 25 mph over carries a 22-day multiplier. Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland also have some sliding-scale fines, or “day-fines,” in place.

[More after the break.]

Should such a system be used in the United States? After all, wealthier people have been shown to drive more recklessly than those who make less money. For example Steve Jobs was known to park in handicapped spots and drive around without license plates. But more importantly, day-fines could introduce some fairness to a legal system that many have convincingly shown to be biased against the poor. Last week, the Department of Justice released a comprehensive report on how fines have been doled out in Ferguson, Missouri. "Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs," it concluded.

The first day-fine ever in the U.S. was given in 1988, and about 70 percent of Staten Island’s fines in the following year were day-fines. A similar program was started in Milwaukee, and a few other cities implemented the day-fine idea. Nevertheless, in America, flat-rate fines are the norm and day-fines remain unusual and even exotic.

According to Judith Greene, who founded Justice Strategies, a non-profit research organization, all of these initiatives were effective in making the justice system fairer for poor people. “When considering a proportion of their income, people are at least constantly risk-averse. This means that the worst that would happen is that the deterrent effect of fines would be the same across wealth or income levels,” says Casey Mulligan. "We should start small—say, only speeding tickets—and see what happens."

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @11:47AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @11:47AM (#158826)

    I'm sure nobody here has heard of red light and speed cameras that were rigged.

    In my area officers are known for running 'aggressive' traffic enforcement campaigns, and more frequently whenever there is a gov't budget shortfall. The complaints I was aware of alleged that whenever an officer finished writing a citation the next car driving by was pulled over for a citation.

    Once I'd heard about that practice, I started recording video with my cell phone held to my chest so it could see my speedometer and out the front window whenever I drove through an area I'd seen them before. I driving 40 in a 40 when I was pulled over for a 51 in a 40 citation. But for video... My car now has a permanently installed dash cam.

    This kind of law makes enforcement fraud so profitable it invites abuse.

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  • (Score: 2) by Nuke on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:36PM

    by Nuke (3162) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:36PM (#158860)

    I'll not deny what you say about wherever you live, but around where I live (UK) the police would never have any need to make anything up. Disobediance of traffic laws is seen wherever you look - exceeding speed limits, phoning while driving, jumping red lights, parking on yellow lines and pavements (US sidewalks), cars using bus lanes. One policeman could stand anywhere in town and have all his time taken up with charging people with genuine offences. Yet I am told, looking world-wide, that UK drivers are among the better behaved.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by moondrake on Tuesday March 17 2015, @03:03PM

    by moondrake (2658) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @03:03PM (#158896)

    I saw this point make several times here and also on the green site. I do not think it is valid in Finland, so perhaps it is a US thing: do traffic fines go into a local government's (or law enforcement) bank account? If so, than this is the problem and not the scaling of fines to income.

    As far as I am aware, in most EU countries, the state (or a state institution) will collect the fines, not the local department. Even although some countries may wish for more money, some local officers going on a aggressive traffic campaign is going to be insignificant for the total budget. And that is assuming you can get the local officers interested in the state of the countries finances (of course they will indirect be dependent on it, but the countries are large enough for this not to matter).

    That said, aggressive officers that only target rich people would be a welcome change.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by M. Baranczak on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:13PM

      by M. Baranczak (1673) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:13PM (#158940)

      I do not think it is valid in Finland, so perhaps it is a US thing: do traffic fines go into a local government's (or law enforcement) bank account?

      Yes, it is a US thing, and it's a huge problem. Local governments have a lot more autonomy here than in Europe, and this is one of the unfortunate side effects. This is why the Finnish system wouldn't work in the US.

      Putting fines into a state-wide pool would fix the problem, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. Some cities (maybe most) would wind up getting less money under the new scheme, and that revenue would have to be made up elsewhere. No politician wants to deal with that.

  • (Score: 2) by Gravis on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:06PM

    by Gravis (4596) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:06PM (#158934)

    Policing for profit is ripe for abuse

    "Proportional fines are not a means of revenue, where did you get that stupid idea from? Fines are punishments. As such, if the punishment doesn't reach even 1% of the money you earn in a day, you can effectively ignore them always, and in the process possibly endanger others. The proportionality of the system is to level the playing field, but that is clearly communism and can't be had in the united states of money."

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @06:00PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @06:00PM (#158990)

    > This kind of law makes enforcement fraud so profitable it invites abuse.

    Actually, you've got it completely backwards. Schemes like this reduce the incentive for abuse.

    The group of people most able to change public policy are the rich and powerful. If you piss them off they are much more likely to try to change public policy because they've experienced the unfairness of it themselves. That is one of the main reasons the TSA's precheck [] program that lets people pay a couple of hundred dollars to avoid much of the hassle the TSA creates is a bad idea. It makes the people most likely to reign in the TSA nearly immune to the TSA's abuse. I'll bet 20:1 odds that every member of congress has signed up for TSA precheck.

    Same thing in this case - policing fines that the rich can shrug off without a thought means they won't notice if that policing is abusive or not. Thus the abuse falls mainly on the poor and disempowered (c.f. the DoJ's report on abusive fines disproportionately affecting the poor in Ferguson, which by the way is not at all limited to Ferguson). If you want to reduce policing for profit, make sure the powerful people feel the brunt of it as much as the common man does.