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From: Carol on 7 Jan 2010 12:06
The Wall Street Journal
Jan 2, 2001. pg. A.1
Helsinki on Wheels: Fast Finns Find Fines Fit Their Finances --
Traffic Penalties Are Assessed According to Driver Income; The $71,400
by Steve Stecklow.
HELSINKI, Finland -- Jaako Rytsola, a 27-year-old Finnish Internet
entrepreneur and newspaper columnist, was cruising in his BMW one
recent evening. "The road was wide and I was feeling good," he later
wrote. "It's nice to be driving when there's no one in sight."
But this road wasn't empty; a radar-equipped police car was clocking
his speed. The officer pulled over Mr. Rytsola's car and issued him a
speeding ticket for driving 43 miles an hour in a 25-mile-an-hour
The fine: $71,400.
The staggering sum was no mistake. In Finland, traffic fines generally
are based on two factors: the severity of the offense and the driver's
income. The concept has been embedded in Finnish law for decades: When
it comes to crime, the wealthy should suffer as much as the poor.
Indeed, sliding-scale financial penalties are also imposed for
offenses ranging from shoplifting to securities-law violations. "This
is a Nordic tradition," says Erkki Wuoma, special planning adviser at
the Ministry of Interior. "We have progressive taxation and
progressive punishments. So the more you earn, the more you pay."
But the arrival of a new, high-tech police tool for calculating
traffic fines is making some well-to-do Finns progressively furious.
For years, the size of traffic fines was largely dependent on the
honor system. Police officers asked violators for their current
monthly gross income, then consulted a book of tables to calculate the
fine. The police complained that drivers routinely lied -- it was "the
national sport," says traffic officer Risto Maksimainen -- and the
only recourse was to go to court. Motorists complained, too, arguing
that the fines should be based on take-home pay, which given Finland's
hefty income-tax rates, is considerably less than gross income.
And so, in October 1999, the Finnish government made some major
changes, including basing fines on net income. But the biggest change
was this: Using cellular phones, the police can now tap into official
tax records, which in Finland are open to the public, and learn within
seconds a driver's reported income and the corresponding traffic fine.
Keijo Kopra, managing director of Vierumaen Teollisuus Oy, a wood-
products company, experienced this firsthand in November 1999. On his
way home from work, Mr. Kopra was pulled over for driving 14 miles an
hour over the speed limit. Using the new system, the officer wrote him
a ticket for $14,500.
Enraged, the executive challenged the amount in court, and a judge
lowered it to $9,000. But then the police mentioned that Mr. Kopra had
received two previous speeding tickets in 1999 before the new system
went into effect. Based on the income he had claimed at the time, each
fine was $750. The judge, outraged, imposed additional fines of
Mr. Kopra remains apoplectic. "This is no constitutionally governed
state, this is a land of rhinos!" he says. "This is legalized robbery
by police. I'm surprised they're not authorized to shoot you, too. But
of course if they shoot you, they cannot get any money out of you."
Rather than pay the fine, Mr. Kopra says he offered to go to jail. The
judge refused -- and Mr. Kopra was forced to pay.
Teemu Selanne, Finland's most celebrated hockey player and a member of
the National Hockey League's Anaheim Mighty Ducks, apparently isn't
thrilled with the system, either. In June, he was fined $39,000 for
colliding with another car in Finland and injuring five people. Mr.
Selanne declined to comment for this story, but a close friend says he
was so upset by the fine that he threatened to leave his country for
good. "He was really angry because he thought it was not fair," says
Hjallis Harkimo, who owns several European sports teams.
Many Finns believe the system is fair. Patrolling the highways outside
Helsinki in an unmarked Opel, Officer Maksimainen and his partner,
Anssi Ukonaho, clock a red Volkswagen Golf driving 18 miles an hour
over the speed limit. They stop the car, and the driver, Janne Rajala,
a 26-year-old student, produces his driver's license. Officer Ukonaho
whips out his Nokia phone and punches in some numbers, including Mr.
Rajala's social-security number.
Within seconds, Mr. Rajala's 1999 tax records appear on the phone's
tiny screen: his monthly gross income ($975) and his after-tax income
($724). The screen also flashes his fine: $82. Because this amount is
below the minimum fine for driving this fast, the officers write a
ticket for $106.
"I think it's okay," Mr. Rajala says, adding he would see nothing
wrong with paying more if he earned more. "Why not? When you have so
much money, it doesn't matter."
Many politicians here apparently agree. Leena Harkimo, a Conservative
Party member of the Finnish parliament and wife of the sports-team
owner, tried to introduce a bill last year that would have capped most
speeding tickets at a mere $7,825. But only 29 of the 200 members of
parliament supported the legislation. "Some people think it's the only
way to get the wealthy people to drive slowly or respect the law," she
says. "If they're speeding often, let's make a system where they lose
their driver's license easily." Traffic fines go to Finland's treasury
to be used for general government purposes.
Mr. Rytsola, who was issued the $71,400 speeding ticket in October and
another $44,100 ticket in August for zigzagging in downtown Helsinki,
says he supports income-based penalties, but with a cap on traffic
fines. Under the present system, he says, "if you earn enough you
shouldn't even touch a car," noting that accidentally driving too fast
could cost the richest Finns hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Government officials concede the new system is more about equity than
safety. While the average fine has doubled in the past year to about
$219, the number of speeding tickets issued is about the same, and
there has been no drop in the number of traffic fatalities. "It's a
big problem," says Anna Lisa Tarvainen, a senior officer in the
Ministry of Transport. Traffic fines are paid to the Ministry of
Heikki Summala, a professor of traffic psychology at the University of
Helsinki, blames the healthy Finnish economy. "Always when the economy
is strong, people drive somewhat faster and have somewhat more
accidents," he says. "Some people are simply more in a hurry . . . and
time is money."
Dr. Summala notes that what makes Finland's new fine system possible
is the country's extensive computerized databases and advanced
cellular-phone technology. Finland, after all, is home to Nokia Corp.,
the world's largest cellular-phone-handset maker, and seven out of
every 10 Finns use cell phones. However, given the complexity of the
new law, it's hard to imagine that anything short of a supercomputer
could calculate a Finnish speeding ticket.
Using an overhead projector back at the Interior Ministry, Mr. Wuoma
attempts to explain the math. He takes out a piece of paper covered
with long equations, which seem more appropriate for a college class
in nuclear physics.
The equations start with a motorist's net monthly income. The figure
comes into play whenever a driver is caught going at least 12 miles an
hour over the posted limit (below that, the fine is a fixed amount,
ranging from $63 to $110).
To begin, the driver's monthly net income is reduced by 1,500 Finnish
marks ($235) and that total is divided by 60. This figure is supposed
to represent a person's daily disposable income. Then, for every
dependent, such as a child or nonworking spouse, 15 marks is
subtracted. But as many as 20 marks may be added depending on the
value of the driver's other assets, including real estate.
The final figure, called a day fine, is then multiplied by a number
ranging between one and 120, representing the severity of the
violation as determined by the traffic officer. For example, a person
driving 20 miles an hour over the limit on a highway in good weather
might be assessed 12 day fines.
It all seems to make sense to the traffic officers looking on. "It's
so simple," says Mr. Ukonaho.
From: Gerrit on 7 Jan 2010 23:00
"Carol" <cobillard(a)hotmail.com> wrote in message
> The Wall Street Journal
> Jan 2, 2001. pg. A.1
> The fine: $71,400.
> The staggering sum was no mistake. In Finland, traffic fines generally
> are based on two factors: the severity of the offense and the driver's
> income. The concept has been embedded in Finnish law for decades: When
> it comes to crime, the wealthy should suffer as much as the poor.
> Indeed, sliding-scale financial penalties are also imposed for
> offenses ranging from shoplifting to securities-law violations. "This
> is a Nordic tradition," says Erkki Wuoma, special planning adviser at
> the Ministry of Interior. "We have progressive taxation and
> progressive punishments. So the more you earn, the more you pay."
Just read in Dutch on-line newspaper that a man in Switzerland was fined
200,000 Euros for speeding.
Seems like they do the same in Switzerland.
From: Erick T. Barkhuis on 8 Jan 2010 05:00
>Tom P wrote:
>>>"Carol" <cobillard(a)hotmail.com> wrote in message
>>>>The Wall Street Journal
>>>>Jan 2, 2001. pg. A.1
>>>>The fine: $71,400.
>>>Just read in Dutch on-line newspaper that a man in Switzerland
>>>was fined 200,000 Euros for speeding. Seems like they do the
>>>same in Switzerland.
>> Also reported here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8446545.stm
>I think perhaps caps might be found. 200,000 euros is just a little
>bit OTT, IMHO.
Perhaps a penalty like in Germany (lose your drivers licence for one or
three months, depending on how much you went over the limit) would,
IMHO, be more appropriate.
Sure, the millionaire will hire a taxi or a private driver, the poor
man will have to ride the bicycle or take the bus. But the effect is
about the same.
From: Erick T. Barkhuis on 8 Jan 2010 06:12
>On 8 Jan 2010 10:00:12 GMT, "Erick T. Barkhuis"
>>Sure, the millionaire will hire a taxi or a private driver, the poor
>>man will have to ride the bicycle or take the bus. But the effect is
>>about the same.
>Except the poor man might lose his job if he hasn't a driving licence.
That's called a "H�rtefall" in Germany, and regulations to prevent that
from happening are in place. In such cases, the penalty is changed into
a fine, but the poor man has to go through a difficult procedure to get
From: Tim C. on 8 Jan 2010 06:21
On 8 Jan 2010 11:12:02 GMT, Erick T. Barkhuis wrote in post :
> That's called a "H�rtefall" in Germany, and regulations to prevent that
> from happening are in place.
But the poor man will be at the limit of his existence, whereas the rich
man will only be slightly irritated for a few months.