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Income-based Fines

Set Fine Amounts for Traffic Violations Based on Income
  (+15, -9)
(+15, -9)
  [vote for,

The world is full of (likely) apocryphal stories about wealthy drivers that commit acts of vehicular indecency with relative impunity because they consider the fine amounts a mere pittance. Such acts would include speeding, use of HOV/diamond lanes and parking tickets.

An appropriate formula may be:


Finland may have a system like this if a story I once heard was true.

GeneticCrypto, Sep 21 2000

Same concept for athletes http://www.halfbake...ts_20Megastars#idea
[beauxeault, Sep 21 2000, last modified Oct 04 2004]

Another Finnish link http://news.excite....0913/08/odd-fine-dc
Nokia president gets pegged for 32,000 USD. [phoenix, Sep 21 2000, last modified Oct 04 2004]

Nokia boss gets record speeding fine http://news.bbc.co..../europe/1759791.stm
A working link to the fine story. [Aristotle, Oct 04 2004]


       An ounce (or gram) of prevention...   

       Hey, its log-based. If a person making X pays $50 a person making 100*X would only pay $150 or so.   

       A linear or tax-rate-like progressive system would be a tough sell.
GeneticCrypto, Sep 21 2000

       Why should the punishment be based on the seriousness of the crime? There are several different reasons for punishing somebody for a crime (of which these are normally considered the most important): - simple retribution (an eye for an eye). I assume that the system of justice in a civilised country will give less weight to this than to the other possible reasons: - deterrence. - rehabilitation - safety of the public.   

       Given that a fine doesn't forcibly prevent the driver from reoffending (unlike removal of a licence, which sort of does), we can ignore this one as well. Rehabilitation is also out, because imposing a fine makes no attempt at changing the character of the offender, nor at educating them as to why their action is considered an offence. So we look at deterrence. It is obvious that if a fine is mere petty cash to a very rich person, then deterrence is not working. So for the sentence to achieve anything at all, it does seem like a reasonable idea to have fines that are calibrated so as to achieve a similar level of deterrence, no matter what the wealth of the offender happens to be. Of course there are arguments against this (the principle of blind justice might be invoked, but then again sentences are in many cases dependent on an offender's past and ability to pay, so it is not a precedent-setting idea), but I think this is quite sensible, if it is indeed true that there is a significant phenomenon of rich people ignoring the law because they can so easily afford to pay the fines.
vincebowdren, Sep 21 2000

       great idea. why should a man with $10,000/year pay the same speeding ticket as a man with $80,000/year.
monty, Sep 21 2000

       Yes, monty makes a salient point. Put aside all the rhetoric (mine included) and the issue is simply that people that make more money can afford to pay slightly higher fines.
GeneticCrypto, Sep 21 2000, last modified Sep 22 2000

       Finland indeed. In the papers today. A millionaire just paid a GBP30,000 (USD50,000) speeding ticket.
dja, Sep 22 2000

       This would be economically unsound, because rich people would just pay poor people to take the fines. If I'm a multi-millionaire, I just give my chauffeur ownership of the car, a salary package that's low on wages but high on benefits, and pay his speeding and parking tickets. Cheaper than driving myself around.   

       This isn't the best example, but you get the idea.
bookworm, Sep 22 2000

       The chaffeur solution can, in turn, be legislated around - probably by making the owner responsible for tickets gained at his/her orders to speed, and speeding without such orders a license-loser for the professional driver.   

       But! Actually, income based-speeding fines *benefit* the rich reckless drivers in question. (The first Finnish guy famous for getting one went on record approving of the principle.) A great selling-point for fast cars, as is clear from the advertising, is that they in turn advertise the wealth and daring of the owner. These widely-reported fines have advertised that wealth and daring much more than a mere consumer purchase possibly could, and their recipients are going to be known as dashing bachelors nationally, or even worldwide.   

       Thorstein Veblen smiles on them.
hello_c, Sep 22 2000

       Really rich people NEED to have chauffers to drive them around becauase no one will insure them.
GeneticCrypto, Sep 22 2000

       I can't understand people having the thought that those earning more should pay more in fines. What you are actually suggesting is that the authorities, having found you guilty of committing an offence, then fine you for that offence as well as fining you for the offence of being wealthy. What happened to the idea that we are all equal under the eyes of the law?   

       Fining wealthy people more because they can afford it is a bit like sending someone to jail because they are less of a contribution to society than someone else who was only fined for committing the same offence.   

       Besides, if people are committing offences purely because they are able to afford the fines, perhaps each time they should be penalised on a graduated scale dependent on the number of previous offences up to and including eventual jail time.
Alcin, Sep 23 2000

       The government charges higher taxes to the more affluent. How is charging higher fines to more affluent people any different?   

       (Laughing :)) a bit because this is tantamount to saying that other things in our financial lives are unfair, so we should be able to deal with additional unfairness.)
GeneticCrypto, Sep 24 2000

       Traffic fines aren't a market price, Alcin, so the analogy doesn't hold. If the system was that we paid X amount of money while pulling on to the highway to buy our maximum speed, it would.   

       However, what the fines actually "buy" is a bit of public confidence that the speeder regrets it, and it does cost more, all else equal, to get that from a rich person. If the unfairness of that still rankles, balance it against the unfairness of the law against sleeping under bridges, which applies to the rich but inconveniences only the poor -   

       - and the trolls.
hello_c, Sep 25 2000

       OK. So we start penalising higher income earners with heavier fines than low income earners. (BTW, I am NOT rich, so have no barrow to push here). Um, so when do we start charging higher earners more for McDonalds, because they can afford it? Or, wait wait wait...Internet access charges ! :-)
Alcin, Sep 25 2000

       First, let me point out that income and wealth are not the same thing. Many people with little or no identifiable income have enough wealth to make small fines a minimal deterrent. And some high income earners have little enough real wealth for exhorbitant fines to be fair (though the original formula really would not result in exhorbitant fines).   

       Second, as hello_c and vincebowdren point out, the real issue is achieving equitable deterrence, not punishing income. But Alcin, I thank you for your defense of personal property rights. There certainly seems to be a lot of eagerness here to gig the rich guy for being rich (meanwhile all the giggers are themselves trying to become rich). I thought we just spent the last century learning that "from each according to his means" does not work, however well intentioned it may be.   

       Third, Alcin's suggestion of increasingly harsh punishments for subsequent offenses does seem to me a reasonably fair, and at least more practical way of preventing the rich from flaunting laws punished by fines. In the U.S., this is in fact the way the laws do work in most states.   

       Finally, despite the validity of the equitable deterrence argument, a rich guy subject to higher fines simply because of income (or wealth) might well consider such "unfairness" all the more reason to flaunt the laws, perhaps even spending more than the possible fines to buy technology or influence, or etc. to "beat the system." The progressive tax rate system in the U.S. is already used by some as justification for hiding income.
beauxeault, Sep 25 2000

       Alcin, you're *still* missing the point that fines aren't buying anything from the agency that exacts them (unlike hamburger prices). They're buying something from the person who pays them, and different people are priced differently.   

       We find it normal for some people to be worth more per hour than others; when a legal penalty is a choice between X hours imprisonment/service and a fee, would you not find it reasonable that the fee be X times the offenders' hourly wage? (An economist would probably expect good old /Homo economicus/ to bid against imprisonment based on his hourly wage. An economist would probably also expect a rich person to be willing to pay more for the same hamburger, if equally hungry, because the extra money is less precious to someone who has more of it; see marginal utility. This seems to be true at many restaurants, although it wasn't true when Amazon tried differential pricing. Note that economists definitely expect sellers to charge based on what the market will bear.)   

       I'm not much impressed with the argument that fines based on income will make the rich cheat more - first, because the Finnish guy actually *didn't* object to the principle. Data! well, datum. Second, because once you apply it equally to poor people, who also have cogent arguments as to unfair treatment, we have either no deterrences left or expect everyone to cheat; both of which lead to unpleasant societies, with or without property rights.   

       And, while we're down at personalities, I am not trying to get any richer than I am. I also have no urge to speed on public rights-of-way.
hello_c, Sep 25 2000

       Alcin: we don't have price discrimination at McDonalds the same reason we don't have it in most situations (including traffic fines): it can be circumvented too easily to be worthwhile. Just pay your local panhandler to buy your Big Mac.
bookworm, Sep 25 2000

       Well I am very obviously not getting the point. I see it like this. (two scenarios);   

       1. Bob - Goes to university (college?), works his butt off doing all he can to better himself. Works his way up through the company until he is earning, say $80K (as monty suggested).   

       2. Fred - Drops out of kindergarten, doesn't want to even learn how read and write. Can't get a job, lives off the state, now "earning" the $10k monty also mentions.   

       Now, both are caught speeding in their cars in exactly the same offense. Why should Fred be fined $50 while Bob pays $150? The offense was the same, the only difference is one took the effort to better himself and make a meaningful contribution to the world, and his personal wealth (in comparison with Fred). I fully realise that $50 to Bob is petty cash, while to Fred it's not, but that doesn't excuse Fred.   

       To misquote the old saying "if you can't pay the fine, don't do the crime."   

       Oh Poo's. In the mail today, a speed camera fine. Not mine I hasten to add, but my wifes. And before anyone goes "Ah Ha", it seems to have occurred just before this topic was started.
Alcin, Sep 26 2000, last modified Sep 27 2000

       Alcin, remember that we're buying something from the offender; the offender is not buying from the state. Of course Bob is willing to pay more for his time; he's paid more for it. And we really *don't* want Bob thinking, Well, I can pay for the crime, so I might as well do it.   

       Fred, at $10k/year, is likely to be deterred by a $50 fine - if by anything, given his imprudence.
hello_c, Sep 27 2000

       Well, I guess we are just going to have to agree to disagree.
Alcin, Sep 28 2000

       On which points? Do you agree that Bob charges more per hour than Fred does?
hello_c, Sep 28 2000

       That earning more should cost you more in fines. Enough.....?
Alcin, Sep 29 2000

       ...But that's based on assumptions about what fines do and should do, and about people's relation to money as they have more or less of it; and some of those assumptions are testable, and all are arguable.
hello_c, Oct 03 2000

       Hello? Goodbye.
Alcin, Oct 04 2000

       Great thread, everyone!
Vis10n, Oct 04 2000

       I don't understand why you base it on income rather than net worth.   

       The formula needs work, (and I think there are better ways to solve these problems that will evolve naturally, but how about 1% of the cars blue book value for the first ticket, 2% for the second, and so on with the counter following the car, not the driver.   

       I don't think it will be long before a clever insurance company realizes that they can cost effectively add a GPS device to your car that only insures you when you need it and bases your rate on where and how you actually drive. It could even calculate and display your premium, taxi meter style, while you drive.   

       Via mechanisms such as this, vehicle infractions of all kinds will become more of a nuisance simply because they affect your insurance rates.
ananias, Dec 06 2000

       The next logical step would be to apply this system to jail time. Of course, an income-based set up wouldn't make sense, so it would have to be age based. For instance, for a crime that now garners a three year jail sentence, if it was committed by a young man (in his 20s?) he might get seven years in prison. But if the same crime was committed by an older man (in his 60s?) he would only serve one year of jail time. After all, with everything else being equal, the 20 year old has more time left on earth than the 60 year old, so it makes more sense thast he should spend a larger percentage of it in jail than the 60 year old if they've committed the same crime.   

       Certainly, we would need a formula to specify the ratio of jail time to age, but I'm sure that could be figured out in a sensible and fair manner.
PotatoStew, Jan 02 2001

       An extract from something I wrote to a politician in DC: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As for speeding penalties I would suggest a progressive fee structure along the lines of:   

       MPH Over Fine ($) 1 1 2 3 3 6 4 10 5 15 6 21 7 28 8 36 9 45 10 55 11 66 12 78 13 91 14 105 15 120 16 136 17 153 18 171 19 190 20 210 21 231 22 253 23 276 24 300 25 325 26 351 27 378 28 406 29 435 30 465   

       You might also consider various weightings/adjustments to the fines based on the weight and/or horsepower of the vehicle, or the number of previous convictions of the driver. One idea here being that a Lincoln Navigator travelling 20mph over the limit is more dangerous (E=MC^2?) than a Honda Insight. Maybe this would encourage the violators to drive more economical and environmentally friendly cars?   

       I don't know how much jurisdiction you have over non-DC vehicles and drivers but some other add-on penalties that could be considered for repeat offenders might include: - require the taking of a written traffic rules and safety examination - require the taking of a web/internet-based traffic/driver safety course and examination - require the physical attendance at traffic safety school - prohibit that car and/or driver from driving on DC streets for 30 days, violator must post bond and substantiate that they abided by the ruling in order to get bond refunded. being cited for a violation within the 30 period would be a jailable offense. - community service - clean up roads, etc - vehicle impoundment (for fun - allow them to rent-back a "chevette", painted bright yellow/orange, with limited acceleration, top speed of 50 mph, and a "black box" that records the driving habits which will be reviewed prior to return of their vehicle) - require that a "black box" be installed in their car for 30 days that provides gps, speed, acceleration, and G-force data. this data could be transmitted real time while they are driving or be downloaded later for review. tampering with the device or driving a non-equipped vehicle in the District during the 30 day period would be a jailable offense. - IRS Audit (I've always been curious if there is any correlation between aggressive driving and tax cheating)
mdoore, Jan 29 2001

       //This idea has the potential to revolutionize public taxation. Properly structured, such fines -- imposed across all enforceable regulations -- could make income taxes unnecessary. Imagine, only the bad pay taxes; the good live tax free.//   

       The problem with this thinking is that it encourages traffic designers to arrange traffic flows to maximize revenue at the expense of both safety and efficiency.   

       It has been documented that governments who install traffic-signal cameras set yellow light times unusually short at those intersections (since otherwise not enough people 'run' red lights to make the cameras worthwhile). Likewise speed cameras are often accompanied by unnecessarily-slow speed limits (which rob drivers' time and, because they are designed to be widely disobeyed, worsen safety).
supercat, May 28 2003

       governments could be self-sustaining???? a goverment is not a business ! It is there to aid in helping its citizens avoid and resolve conflict. thats all. This already happens... to all people who ever owned a vehicle and had a ticket. Higher insurance. So a rich person has a nicer car pays more for insurance than the poor with a beater..... both expenses here are more than the ticket. [GeneticCrypto] My dreams in this land of america is to live off welfare because it seems unfair (thus the addional punishment you recommend) to want to earn more. my first speeding ticket was 70 in a 55 on a country road going to college on a day that highschool had off. I was in highschool at the time and i was trying to better myself but now i learned. i am going to collect welfare. i can take my time cashing money i don't earn. p.s. $100 fine $1000+ so far on insurance
I2RI, May 29 2003

       [marked–for–deletion] baked, implemented and enforced by major European country [see link]
Aristotle, May 29 2003

       I don't think anyone will be surprised to find out that (gasp) I like this idea. So much so in fact that I've often thought I'd like to own a restaurant or live performance art type theatre that charges people this way. The hb'ers who think that there isn't a way to get around the well-to-do getarounders aren't giving the savvy socialists their due, me thinks.   

       Note that the businesses I mentioned are entertainment, leisure, non-neccessities. Lots of really rich people like to show off how much they can afford to spend on these things (think $22 Can/$44 US for a "paintcan full of hot chocolate for home use at a chi-chi coffee shop or $40 Can/$80 US for a mink hair scrunchy at Holt Renfrew (just reverse slumming, really!).   

       You have a charming owner/operator such as myself perhaps. You ofter entertainment the likes of which they've seen only in their most technicolor dreams that they get to sample through a peephole and then ... you ask them to provide a copy of their last tax form (of course there would have to be tax reform first), all subforms must be included please (said assertively, assumptively and ever so sweetly) and presto! add a little water and you've got instant spending equity.
thecat, Jun 12 2003

       this is actually a good idea- and i am closer to libertarian than anything else. of course, i'd rather see speed limits done away with, but that's not about to happen. this is actually closer to fair than any tax system we have. In this system, the percentage of your income/wealth/whatever measurement you pay for speeding, for example, would end up being something like 1% for the poor, .5% middle class, .25% upper class, .001% paris hilton class. That's because this is based on logs, not an actual percentage. It's much fairer to take the same relative dent out of each person's purse than to take, say, 2 days wages from a blue collar guy, or 2 minutes wages from a billionaire. In fact, why not make fines based on something like, you pay 2 hours wages in fine. Much much fairer than the current system. Also, switch the stupid progressive tax system (which really does punish you more for being wealthy) to a flat rate.
buddymatt, Jan 19 2004

       Ok, here is the straight and low down. Those who think that the law for fines based on income is stupid are absolutely.... stupid. You want equal rights, you have nothing better as this, fines based on income. As others have pointed out, everyone is different, therefore your fine should be different. The fine should be there to "teach you a lesson". Make it hurt, and license suspension are a must. Remember people, that thing that you are driving around is a PRIVILEGE and NOT A RIGHT. and don't even thing about suing... that's pathetic.
mrdquick, Jul 12 2004

       I'm reminded of a very famous, very rich Australian whom got convicted, and was then told by the judge that ge was "too rich to fine, and too famous to jail" so he got off scott free.
simonj, Jul 12 2004

       Theoretically this system exists in the UK (for minor offences anyway). Each offence has a tarrif and the monetry penalty is applied accordinf to a formula that basically multiplies the offender's disposable income by the tarrif. This 'equalises' the effect of the penalties on offenders from different income brackets and also ensures that poor offenders aren't jailed just because the level of the fine greatly exceeds their income, whereas a higher earner would pay it, walk away and re-offend.
oneoffdave, Jul 12 2004

       //Those who think that the law for fines based on income is stupid are absolutely.... stupid. //
Well, that's a very mature and reasoned contribution.
angel, Jul 12 2004

       Of course we SHOULDN'T have income based fines. The answer, in the real world it doesn't work.   

       Firstly -- people can't be bothered to fill in the forms saying how much money they make. So what happens? We fine them the maximum. Then it hits the papers 'unemplyed Bob get's £26000 speeding fine' and everyone thinks the justice system is lunacy.   

       Secondly -- contrary to popular belief the government does not know how much a lot of people make. Being self-employed it is very easy to legally get out of making a lot of money as salary. The easiest way is simply to do a share-allocation, all to yourself, then give yourself as an individual massive dividends.   

       So then you get 'Guy living in mansion with business assets of £3bn pays £30 for speeding fine' because according to the letter of the law he has set his income as £30.   

       After this you get into gifting .. so I gift my wife all my wages so I have none. Then your into family support .. my .. er .. granny needed 90% of my wages so I can't afford to pay my fine.   

       How many more faults do we need?   

       The guy is speeding on company business -- how much does he get charged? (of course his boss 'demanded that he speed)   

       The guy is from outer mongolia, shall we ask them lot how much he makes? 3 groats! So the guy who has just drunkenly run over 3 kids gets a £1.20 fine -- and we're back into the headlines.   

       The guy is a Johovah witness -- he owns nothing. Why should he go to jail because of his (indirect) religeous beliefs.   

       A executive gets no salary, but a £2m bonus per year. It's his first year, he hasn't got his bonus yet .. so we're back onto him being fined £1.80. Hits the headlines.   

       Pay increase for a guy is back-dated. He was on £10000 now he's on £50000. Do we go back and retrospectively fine him a load more money? (At which point his company simply says 'naah he was on £50000 the months BEFORE, and the months AFTERWARDS, but we're not retrospectively paying him for the specific month (day) in question.   

       etc. etc. etc. Idea won't work. Sorry [-]
britboy, Jul 12 2004

       What Aristotle said, minus the mfd. Is this really the first time all of you are having this discussion?
yabba do yabba dabba, Jul 12 2004

       I thought of this again today, in a broader sense.   

       Recently in the news - a billionaire was fined for contempt of court during a trail they were involved in. The fine was roughly 1/500000th of their estimated net worth. By comparison, the fine for a speeding ticket in the USA may cost a typical US household roughly 1/1000 of their net worth. By that reckoning, contempt's of court by a billionaire was deemed to be 500 times less serious than doing 10-15 MPH over the speed limit by an average citizen.
a1, Oct 20 2023


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