Sunday, January 10, 2010

Speeding tickets based on the driver's income?

Europe has all sorts of progressive taxation, so why not have progressive income based penalties for speeding? It doesn't make any more sense than having the price of cars or bread or anything else based on income. Efficiency requires that people buy goods up to the point where the marginal benefit that they receive is equal to the marginal cost. Varying prices with income will move the market away from that optimal output. The traditional argument for penalties for speeding is the same. There is a cost from speeding in terms of increasing the likelihood of accidents, and there is a benefit in terms of saving time by getting to the driver's destination faster. Unless one wants to argue that the expected damage from a wealthy speeder going a certain speed is greater than a poorer one going the same speed, one wouldn't want the penalty for speeding to vary with the wealth of the speeder. The only exceptions would be if wealthier criminals were some how harder to catch to begin with. From Fox News:

European countries are increasingly pegging speeding fines to income as a way to punish wealthy scofflaws who would otherwise ignore tickets.

Advocates say a $290,000 speeding ticket slapped on a millionaire Ferrari driver in Switzerland was a fair and well-deserved example of the trend.

Germany, France, Austria and the Nordic countries also issue punishments based on a person's wealth. In Germany the maximum fine can be as much as $16 million compared to only $1 million in Switzerland. Only Finland regularly hands out similarly hefty fine to speeding drivers, with the current record believed to be a $190,000 ticket in 2004.

The Swiss court appeared to set a world record when it levied the fine in November on a man identified in the Swiss media only as "Roland S." Judges in the eastern canton of St. Gallendescribed him as a "traffic thug" in their verdict, which only recently came to light.

"As far as we're concerned this is very good," Sabine Jurisch, a road safety campaigner with the Swiss group Road Cross.

She said rich drivers were lightly punished until Swiss voters approved a 2007 penal law overhaul that let judges hand down fines based on personal income and wealth for moderate misdemeanors including excessive speeding and drunk driving. Before, they had to assign relatively small fixed penalties or — rarely — a few days in prison.

The fines were traditionally insignificant for rich people, and in the rare cases where prison terms for small-time offenders were handed down, they were usually suspended anyway. And even when they were sent to jail, the deterrent was limited compared with the costs of incarceration borne by the taxpayers, officials said. . . .

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