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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: 2, Disagree) by jrial on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:04PM

    by jrial (5162) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:04PM (#158828)

    Don't know if I agree. At first glance, yes, it does seem more fair: the more you make, the less you feel the sting of a traffic ticket. This negates the deterrent effect of the fine for the wealthier among us, but even the "cheaper" tickets can be quite a sum to the less affluent.

    On the other hand, shouldn't this then apply to everything? I mean, shouldn't that $600 widescreen then be like $200 to someone making 1/3 of my wage and $6000 to someone making ten times as much as me? The world doesn't work that way: what you can afford is directly related to your income. Can't afford something? => don't buy it or look for cheaper alternatives.

    This applies to speeding tickets as well: can't afford to pay one? Don't speed.

    Of course, some fines are just plain unfair. E.g. temporarily obstructed signage which must still be obeyed etc... These are still a burden for someone who barely manages to scrape by, but that's another problem which can be solved without linking fines to income.

    Personally, I think the points system used in some European countries is a better solution. You start with X amount of "points" on your driver's license. Every traffic violation costs you n amount of points, depending on the severity. Lost points recover slowly with time, but when your points run out, you lose your license. I assume the next step is to retake the exam and get a new one, not sure. My country prefers to have offenses to their traffic laws settled in cash rather than points. ;)

    --
    Install windows on my workstation? You crazy? Got any idea how much I paid for the damn thing?
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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:12PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:12PM (#158830)

    shouldn't that $600 widescreen then be like $200 to someone making 1/3 of my wage and $6000 to someone making ten times as much as me?

    I don't care if Richie Rich buys a toilet made out of solid gold, but I do care if he runs someone over because he didn't follow traffic rules.

    • (Score: 1) by jrial on Monday March 23 2015, @02:17PM

      by jrial (5162) on Monday March 23 2015, @02:17PM (#161471)

      Most people who regularly speed, myself included, only do it in places where it's safe to do so. If I'm on an empty road with clear vision, and the speed limit is ridiculously low, I'll go between 10-30 km/h over the limit. On highways, I usually only go 6km/h over the limit (that's slightly below the margin in my country where you're actually fined), because it's not always easy to see where the police are hiding. But in front of a school, or in a town centre with foot/bike traffic, I stick to the limit. Why? Because I interpret the speed limit laws according to the spirit of the law, not the wording: they were introduced to promote safety, and as long as I'm driving safely (only accidents I seem to get are silly things like bumping into something while backing out of a parking lot), I'm doing fine.

      Speeding is not the same as carelessly running over people; speeding is driving faster than what the signs next to the road urge you to. I wish for once, we could have the "speeding" discussion without half the participants going all hyperbole and equate 10km/h over the speed limit on empty roads with intentionally running over little kids, puppies and kittens.

      --
      Install windows on my workstation? You crazy? Got any idea how much I paid for the damn thing?
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:26PM

    by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:26PM (#158834)

    ... don't buy it or look for cheaper alternatives.

    This applies to speeding tickets as well: can't afford to pay one? Don't speed.

    So are you saying that if you can afford to pay a ticket, go ahead and speed? That doesn't seem right.

    That's the difference between legal punishments for crimes, and the purchase of a material good: The idea of laws is that they're not supposed to change just because you are richer. The rule is not supposed to be "Pay us €150 and you can go as fast as you like" but "Don't drive faster than 50 km/hr down this road". The fine is not buying your indulgence, it's creating an incentive to obey the rule and not speed.

    --
    The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"
    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:02PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:02PM (#158844)

      The idea of laws is that they're not supposed to change just because you are richer.

      Where have you been? Where do you live that laws are applied equally to rich and poor?

      • (Score: 2) by fritsd on Tuesday March 17 2015, @02:56PM

        by fritsd (4586) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @02:56PM (#158891) Journal

        Maybe Thexalon is from Suomi :-)

        • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:26PM

          by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:26PM (#158945)

          I wish I was - instead I have to put up with the craziness in the United States when I'd much rather be lounging in a sauna. Also, I'm terrible at learning languages, so alas Finland is not really in my future.

          --
          The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @07:33AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @07:33AM (#159270)

            Well, you can still get a sauna, though, if you have your own house.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by aristarchus on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:52AM

        by aristarchus (2645) on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:52AM (#159159) Journal

        “The law in its infinite majesty, forbids rich & poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in streets & to steal their bread” Anatole France

        --
        Die Republikkkanische Partei isst die weissvolken partei.
  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:30PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:30PM (#158837)

    Power means immunity from consequences. The more power someone has the greater the consequences they can ignore.
    Scaling punishments by the amount of money a person normally spends is a way to scale the consequences to match the amount of power a person has.

    It isn't perfect, because the powerful can still lawyer their way out of convictions. But its a start.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @02:54PM

      by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @02:54PM (#158889)

      Power means immunity from consequences. The more power someone has the greater the consequences they can ignore.

      It does tend to mean that, but it should be the other way around: The more power somebody has, the higher a standard they should be held to.

      The reason is very simple: The consequences of a powerful person screwing up are much greater than the consequences of a powerless person screwing up. For example, when an impoverished garment worker in Bangladesh screws up, the only consequence is that the seam on your pants unravels faster than it otherwise would have. Whereas when Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld screws up, the global economy can crash causing huge amounts of misery everywhere in the world. And when the President of the United States screws up, thousands of people die.

      I want anyone with power to be very uncomfortable most of the time. I want them to be nervous that the slightest mistake could end their careers. That's how we'll get leaders that are careful rather than indulgent with power.

      --
      The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"
      • (Score: 2) by moondrake on Tuesday March 17 2015, @03:18PM

        by moondrake (2658) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @03:18PM (#158905)

        I tend to agree, but I believe such system is impossible. First of all, powerful people will use their power to secure their position, even in the case where they screw up.

        Secondly, if we were to instate such a system, why would anyone want to have (acknowledged) power? If be far more appealing to most people to be in a position that is not seen as powerful, as it would offer more security.

        It is possible to give money to counter-balance this, but they would just use the money to escape from the negative consequences that you impose on powerful people screwing up.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:18PM

          by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:18PM (#158944)

          I've always thought the best extrinsic motivation we could give more powerful people was getting laid more often and by more people. That's a lot less harmful than giving them more money, and is still a very strong motivator. And when you look at politicians that were heavily motivated by getting laid, they on the whole did at least as good a job as anyone else who's tried it.

          However, one of the major problems of political science is that anyone who actually wants to be powerful is typically going to be a bad person to entrust with power. The leaders you want do it out of a sense of obligation towards whatever group they're leading. You can tell who these people are because when given power, they take it upon themselves to take more responsibility for what's going on in an organization rather than less responsibility. For people at the pinnacle of power, the best ones believe in "The buck stops here" (and yes, in my view and the view of historian surveys, Harry Truman falls into the category of one of the best ones). Of course, once bad folks know that's the path to power, they do their best to fake it, but there's a way around that, namely checking with the people they're supposed to be leading to see if they are in fact leading.

          --
          The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:00PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:00PM (#158929)

        Sure, but I'm not describing the way it ought to work. I'm describing what power actually means. Immunity from consequences is the function of power.

        I don't just mean criminal consequences. I mean in all things. For example: A rich person has a failed business, no big deal. An average person has a failed business, they might lose their house. A rich person contracts hep C, they can afford the $90,000 cure. A poor person contracts hep C, they just have to live with it for the rest of their life.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Daiv on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:40PM

    by Daiv (3940) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @12:40PM (#158838)

    The US driving point system is supposed to work the same way as the European system you describe. http://www.dmv.org/point-system.php [dmv.org] Points are assigned for moving violations based on states rules. The more points you accumulate, the more expensive the penalties for new tickets and the more expensive insurance becomes. After enough points, a drivers license is suspended/revoked.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Nuke on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:28PM

    by Nuke (3162) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @01:28PM (#158855)

    Personally, I think the points system used in some European countries is a better solution. ...... Every traffic violation costs you n amount of points .... when your points run out, you lose your license.

    That is more-or-less how it is in the UK, so persistent offenders lose their licence for a period like 3 or 6 months. They are fined as well. They also may be required to attend a safety course, and in some cases re-take the driving test. As the driving test is pretty easy for any experienced driver, a re-take is usually only called for if the culprit is obviously incompetent, or going senile or blind.

    Fines are generally low (typically less than an average day's salary) and people are far more concerned about losing their licence. You will hear people say "I am keeping to the speed limits at the moment because I am nearly out of licence points."

    • (Score: 2) by tonyPick on Wednesday March 18 2015, @08:29AM

      by tonyPick (1237) on Wednesday March 18 2015, @08:29AM (#159290) Homepage Journal

      Of course, one problem with the UK system is that there's actually a fair amount of discretion left up on the sentencing side, so the revocation of the license isn't as automatic as some people assume: the drivers can claim "exceptional hardship" would result from the loss of a license, and there's no strict definition of what that is (AIUI):

      From http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-25626147 [bbc.co.uk]

      Almost 7,300 motorists with 12 points or more on their licences have not been banned from driving, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has claimed.

      Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) latest figures show a man from Liverpool is driving with 45 penalty points on his licence, the IAM said.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @04:06PM (#158933)

    This applies to speeding tickets as well: can't afford to pay one? Don't speed.

    Bwahaha! Driving the speed limit is no defense against a ticket. Not when officer performance reviews are based on revenue or traffic detail is a punishment (non-quota quota), you're the wrong color, look 25 or younger (too young to have resources/power) or are driving a hot rod/sports car.

    Today you face additional risk. 'Probable cause' dogs/the officer smelled drugs/there was drug 'shake' in the car (thus no evidence in court) so we're seizing your property, sign this document turning it over to us or be arrested, have your car impounded and your kids turned over to CPS (some 'speed trap' towns switched to this method).

    This is 'monetization' pure and simple, dressed up in a class warefare costume.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Ethanol-fueled on Tuesday March 17 2015, @05:26PM

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @05:26PM (#158971) Homepage

    Driving on highways in America we have two often-contradictory rules - Drive the speed-limit, but also follow the flow of traffic.

    With regards to police, we are becoming less and less about public safety and more about revenue collection.

    So an employee who needs a car to get to his job because public transit is shit (as in San Diego, where I live*) has to become caught-up in that rat-race, and speeding tickets are hundreds of dollars in fines. For many people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, that is a significant problem.

    * No smartasses had better tell me that San Diego has good public transporation. San Diego has good public transportation if you want to go to Tijuana from Downtown. All of the affordable housing is in the mid-city area, El Cajon, and the South Bay. All of the good jobs are in North County. Do the math.

  • (Score: 2) by sjames on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:41PM

    by sjames (2882) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:41PM (#159059) Journal

    If a flatscreen TV was required to be in compliance with the law, it might be necessary to legislate it's price to a fixed percentage of discretionary income.

    Theoretically, the ticket is a punishment to deter unlawful behavior. Not restitution for damages and not funding for the police department. As such, the pain needs to be equal for everyone who breaks the law. By not doing that you are for all practical purposes declaring the wealthy to be exempt from traffic law.