Why day-fines are fairer than fixed-fines

All forms of justice should be equitable, and this includes traffic tickets

Traffic fines should be relative to a day's wage, not a fixed amount. (Kyler Emerson)

Traffic fines should be relative to a day’s wage, not a fixed amount. (Kyler Emerson)

What would you say if traffic tickets were to cost different amounts depending on your income? That system is called a day-fine that Finland uses and is meant to maintain fairness.

There is no fixed price for tickets in Finland, they are instead based on your average income. The most common is your daily wage divided by two. This does mean that traffic tickets can get extremely high, such as in 2015 when a ticket was issued for €54,000 for going 65mph in a 50mph zone. But this also means that someone who is making minimum wage would only have to pay around $60 if this system were in British Columbia. 

Opinions on bringing this system into Canada are divided, and along the lines one would expect. Wealthier citizens baulk at the idea of having to pay $40,000 for a traffic violation, while the middle class is mixed, and those living closer to the poverty line would no longer have to fear going into debt over a speeding ticket. 

A fairly common phrase for this is “if a crime is punished by a fine, then it is only a law for poor people.” 

This is functionally true, as a $130 fine means a very different thing to someone who earns $120 a day, when compared to someone who earns $400 a day. But by taking Finland’s approach, the first person would be ordered to pay $60, and the second ordered to pay $200. Both are significant to each based on their own income, and this means that both will avoid a ticket, as they will each lose the same relative amount rather than the first running the risk of skipping meals and the second having to only skip a luxury purchase.

This system is more fair as every person has the same to lose, making everyone more likely to follow the law without the threat of imminent poverty hanging over their heads.This follows along with the system of progressive taxes, where those that earn more are meant to pay more. 

While some tickets may hit extremely high prices, having it based on income rather than a fixed price is far more fair and equitable. A study on the matter states, “this type of a penalty system prevents wealthy people from appearing to ‘purchase’ the right to commit offences because the relative costs imposed on them are the same as on low-income offenders.” 

Bringing a day-fine system to Canada would be a huge step towards income equality and addressing the issues surrounding speeding and dangerous driving. As some of the most common cars involved in speeding are in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, even with a lease and financing, this is beyond the means of most minimum wage workers. 

Overall, the day-fine system is more just than a fixed-fine system. It ensures that no matter one’s income, they still face a consequence for breaking the law. This is how justice should be — fair and equal, but also equitable.