That the Finnish names Jaakko Rytsola, Anssi Vanjoki, and Jussi Salonoja feature whenever there are lists of the most expensive speeding tickets on record should come as no surprise. In Finland the fine for speeding is a function of the net income of the offender, which means that wealthier offenders pay progressively higher amounts. Internet entrepreneur Mr. Rytsola paid about 65 ($112) thousand euros, former Nokia executive Mr. Vanjoki was fined 116 ($200) thousand euros (which was later reduced when Nokia’s profits went south), and the heir to a sausage business Mr. Salonoja was issued a ticket for 170 ($293) thousand euros.
Finland’s Road Traffic Act has not been translated into English, but the Ministry of Transport and Communications states (emphasis mine):
“The fine for exceeding the speed limit is 100 to 115 euros ($172 to $198) for excess speeds of up to 20km/h. For a minor traffic offence the fine is a maximum of 50 euros ($86). For serious speeding offences and for other traffic offences the fine is determined according to the driver’s income. Fines are calculated on the basis of net monthly income using taxation data for the previous year”.
The police of Finland have likewise noted that “[a] driver caught speeding is usually stopped right away and is required to pay either a fixed fine or the appropriate number of unit fines (the system of unit fines is based on the offender’s net income)”.
The speeding ticket is an example of a day-fine – or päiväsakko in Finnish – which takes into account the financial means of the offender. Besides speeding most infractions are punishable with a day-fine, which is calculated by subtracting 255 euros ($440) from the person’s monthly net income (based on taxation data), and then dividing this sum by 60. If the fined person has dependents then the amount can be reduced further. The minimum fine is 6 euros ($10). If desired the demand for a fine can be contested in a district court.
This policy is well-received by proponents who believe that fines should serve as an effective deterrent. I first read about the fines in Michael Sandel’s “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets”, where he argued (emphasis mine) that the speeding ticket “shows that society not only wants to cover the costs of risky behaviour; it also wants the punishment to fit the crime – and the bank balance of the perpetrator”. In other words if the monetary punishment was designed as an disincentive for serious traffic transgressions, then regardless of one’s wealth or income the pinch should feel the same – relatively.
On the other hand opponents such as lawmaker Leena Harkimo have argued that the system is unfair. After Mr. Vanjoki’s speeding ticket she posited that “[p]eople are equal before the law whatever their colour, age, or sex, and so they should be when it comes to wealth”.
Endangerment of public safety should not be condoned, and critics have mainly been calling for caps on the day-fines, not their removal altogether. At the same time the implementation of such a mathematical system elsewhere appears highly improbable: the United Kingdom tested a system of unit fines, taking into account a defendant’s disposable income, but it was abolished soon after. Perhaps for Finns, compliance still remains the best policy.
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