British authorities have this week introduced a new speeding penalty based on the offender's income, echoing a similar model already used in Finland other parts of the Scandinavian region.
In a new report by the UK's Autocar, motorists caught doing more than 31mph (50km/h) over the limit could be fined between 125 and 175 per cent of their weekly income, while those exceeding the speed limit in a 30mph (48km/h) zone will incur three penalty points and fined 25 to 75 per cent of their weekly wage.
Fines are divided into three streams, A, B and C, with C including the 31mph (50km/h) and above over the limit, while B covers 11-20mph (18-32km/h) over the limit, and A involving 1-10mph (1.6-16km/h) above the signed speed.
More serious fines are issued in conjunction with either penalty points or disqualification, while fines are capped at 2500 pounds ($4233) for motorway offences and 1000 pounds ($1693) elsewhere.
Here at home, Canberra-based research group The Australia Institute (TAI) wants the country to adopt an income-based traffic fines model based on similar systems used in Finland and the UK.
In a report published earlier this year, TAI argues that traffic fines in Australia hit low-income earners particularly hard - referring to a 2014 case study involving a 22 year-old woman from Western Australia who died in custody because she couldn't pay $1000 in fines.
"The impact of a fine on low-income earners can be very hard, leading to financial stress or even to jail time," the study says.
Going by the Finnish model, the fine takes into account the monthly income of the driver and the number of dependents for whom the offender provides. From there, an offender's net monthly income is determined after taxes and transfers.
Lower income earners that are caught doing less than 10km/h over the speed limit would be fined around $33, while higher-income earners would pay closer to $295.
By comparison, for the same offence in Australia the fine would equate to about $130 depending on which state it's committed in.
However, the study notes that these changes may result in less revenue being collected - which would be a major blocker for the Australian government - and recognises that there are motorists that can be considered quite wealthy but very little disposable income.
The report concludes:
"The regressive nature of the flat fine structure gives the lowest income drivers a more burdensome financial penalty than wealthy drivers, even if both commit the same offence.
This violates the notion of proportionality of justice, which requires the punishment for a crime be scaled consistently relative to the degree of the offence. Because a billionaire can more easily pay a $200 fine than can a pensioner, the two face different effective punishments for the same crime.
Borrowing Finland’s proportional traffic fine model would improve the current system by making it more fair and effective. The incentive-structure would be improved because reality is that people earn different amounts of income. This is a reality that the current system does not reflect."
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