$290,000 Speeding Ticket: Is this fair?

Ok, while we are on the subject of philosophising, consider some of the questions that arise from the following news article:

A millionaire motorist clocked up a record fine of 299,000 Swiss francs ($290,000) after Swiss police caught him racing through a village at 100 km per hour in his red Ferrari Testarossa, Swiss media reported on Thursday. (Reuters Jan 7 2010)

Upon first reading this, I could not believe how a society might charge someone $290,000 for a speeding fine. After all, we always like to think that justice in a modern democracy should be applied equally to all. This concept is all about fairness, mainly because arbitrary justice or penality that favours one group over another is now seen as being quite medieval, typically associated with monarchies or authoritarian regimes.

Further research showed, however, that several Western countries have sliding scales for traffic fines that are dependent on wealth. Here’s another example from Finland, which also has a sliding scale system, from 2004:

Police gave a record $216,900 speeding ticket to a millionaire under a system in which traffic fines are linked to an offender’s income.

The Iltalehti tabloid reported that millionaire Jussi Salonoja zoomed through the city center last weekend in a 25 mph zone and police handed him a ticket of $216,900. It didn’t say what his speed was.

The fine was based on information they got directly for the Inland Revenue office, the Tuesday report said.

Hmmm, so the cops can immediately check put how much you earn by logging into the Inland Revenue office, then ping you a percentage of those earnings.

OK, I can see how one might argue that it is more equitable in terms of deterrence –- if everyone gets fined 1 per cent of their earnings if caught speeding, then the poor are no more disadvantaged than the rich.

But what if you have earned nothing? Can you speed for free? Or if you made a loss for the year, does that mean that the government pays you if you are caught speeding?

But why just speeding fines, as surely by this logic, most fines are not deterrents for the wealthy. What about parking tickets? Dog registration? Property taxes?

But why stop at wealth? Why not bring in other variables such as sex, ethnicity or size when making a legal judgement? You’re a female driver caught speeding. Pay double. You’re a dwarf. Half price.

Or how about this: Should the length of a prison sentence be, in part, determined by a convicted person’s projected longevity? After all, five years in prison may represent 10 per cent of one person’s life while for another this might only be, say, 6 per cent. Therefore, criminals from long-lived families should receive longer prison terms.

You see the problems that begin to arise when legal judgements are influenced by all sorts of extraneous variables rather than treating us all as equal pieces of meat?



One Response

  1. Ahhh Rob, interesting thoughts especially the prison picture!
    I’m with you but even if this is completely not applicable in most of the western countries, it does make sense in Billionaire land where half of the population has a standard of life comprised in the 0.5% of the world…

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