Should You Pay More For A Speeding Ticket If You Make More Money?

Photo: Tero Sivula/REX USA.
In the latest installment of "How Scandinavia is showing us up," The Atlantic highlights a Finnish policy of tying fines for things like traffic violations to an individual's income, leading to traffic fines that can reach six figures.

Unlike the United States, where running a red light will set you back the same amount whether you live below the poverty line or in a gilded, gated mansion, Finland fines drivers based on an assessment of their earnings. An algorithm determines how much spending money the offender has per day, according to a taxpayer database, and lawmakers choose day-based fines according to the severity of the offense. Finland caps its fines at 180 days' worth of daily spending — but there’s no limit to the actual euro amount.

America experimented with similar sliding-scale fees in the 1980s, but today opts for flat fees which do little to dissuade wealthy offenders. And, conversely — and more distressingly — flat fees can do a lot to hurt poorer citizens, for whom a traffic ticket could cost a week's pay.

The ACLU and other news sources have repeatedly highlighted the practice by certain states of jailing people who can’t afford to pay their fines and court fees, despite the fact that debtor’s prisons are outlawed by the U.S. Constitution. The practice has been in the news recently thanks to the revelation that in Ferguson, MO, where protesters have been demonstrating since the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown this summer, exorbitant fines and court fees brought the city $2.6 million dollars in 2013. It was the city’s second-largest source of revenue.

It's worth noting that Finland isn't alone in this act of earnings-based fines. The Atlantic reports that Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland also use what are called “day-fines.” Sounds like a European idea worth emulating, to us. 
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