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When I read about an app that increases inequality on the street by letting people auction off public parking spaces to the highest bidder, I was reminded of a way that several countries have actually equalized the burden of traffic tickets and other civil penalties by charging "day fines."  

I first became aware of the concept when I lived in Stockholm for six months in 1974 and read about people being sentenced to pay an amount of "dagsböter."  I discovered that the penalties for various infractions were stated in day fines and that the monetary amount was determined by multiplying the applicable day fine times the person's income for one day.  This system is widely applied in Scandinavia,  Germany and Switzerland.

Every once in a while, stories about day fines make the news here, like when a Swedish multi-millionaire was caught speeding on the Finnish island of Åland last year and had to pay a fine of $180,000.  The driver admitted that he had only himself to blame but said that he would rather "put that money on the elderly, health, day care or whatever," as if he would have done so if he hadn't been caught speeding.  In 2010, NBC covered the story of a tycoon who was caught going over 180 mph through villages in Switzerland.  He was driving so fast, it took him almost half a mile to stop his Mercedes. The fine, based on his income, was $962,000.  

In New York City, we constantly see rich scofflaws violating the traffic laws.  They may get tickets, but the fines are trivial amounts of money for the billionaires.  Last night, I mentioned the concept of day fines to a member of our city council and she thought we should look into putting the system in practice here.  It turns out that the concept is not totally unknown in New York City.  A few years ago, a police officer told me he thought the system had been introduced on Staten Island, but I had never heard of it.  So I checked online last night and found out that there was indeed a DOJ pilot program in the 90's not only in Staten Island but also in Polk County, Iowa and Maricopa Country, Arizona.  The pilot program seems not to have included traffic fines.  But imagine how much revenue the city could take in if we started making rich scofflaws pay meaningful fines for a change.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    A language is a dialect with an army and a navy - Max Weinreich

    by keestone on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 09:00:55 AM PDT

  •  I do think there is an economic justice issue (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sparhawk, thanatokephaloides

    A few years ago a friend of mine received a ticket. One of the camera traps snared him in Menlo Park, CA. He thought he had gone through the light when it was yellow, and that he didn't deserve the ticket. However, fighting it wasn't worth his time and he paid the $450. He did discuss with me the notion of what if $450 was a week's pay, or more, for someone, how devastating a fine of that amount could be. It's a very fair question.

    In the US fines based on income would be challenged and I think there is a very good possibility that they would not stand constitutional muster.  

    "let's talk about that" uid 92953

    by VClib on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 09:14:47 AM PDT

  •  Billionaires have chauffeurs (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, DFWmom, thanatokephaloides

    that sit in their cars while they are parked. So it's not the billionaires that will be subjected to high fines.

  •  Sorry....... (0+ / 0-)

    But this notion violates the equal protection clause  in so many different ways that I am surprised you even bring it up.

    Of corse, Sweden is under no such limiting factor......

    The best way to tell a Democrat from a Republican is to present someone requiring food and shelter. The Democrat will want them housed and fed, even if they be faking need. The Republican will gladly see them starve until all doubt is removed.

    by GayIthacan on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 10:30:09 AM PDT

    •  Can you cite a case? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Since when does classification by income create a constitutionally suspect class?

      A language is a dialect with an army and a navy - Max Weinreich

      by keestone on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 10:44:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Asdf (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I was speaking in theory, since no one has tried to impose a system of civil penalties based on ability to pay.

        How can you legally justify the different fines for precisely the same offence without treating one group of citizens differently than another?

        The best way to tell a Democrat from a Republican is to present someone requiring food and shelter. The Democrat will want them housed and fed, even if they be faking need. The Republican will gladly see them starve until all doubt is removed.

        by GayIthacan on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 01:03:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Deterrence (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Google "civil penalty" and "ability to pay" and you'll see that it is already part of Federal guidelines for assessing EPA fines.  As long as you are not dealing with a suspect category, all you need is a rational basis, such as deterrence.  And if someone feels discriminated against for being rich, he can always go work for a non-profit.

          A language is a dialect with an army and a navy - Max Weinreich

          by keestone on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 03:28:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I dunno...Seems to provide society less protection (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      from people with large pocketbooks than from those without.

      Really should be applied to corporate malfeasance, too.  Fines rarely do much to deter large businesses, because they're typically very low compared to the cost of actually complying with the law.  Of course, those same fines could cripple a small business or individual.

    •  How so? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The standard would be rational basis, as there is no suspect class involved here.  So, what precisely are these "so many different ways"?  

    •  No.. no... it does not (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      keestone, thanatokephaloides

      income is not a suspect classification (race, national origin, religion, alienage, and poverty) subject to strict scrutiny. As such, it is subject to rational basis review which requires that : "the challenged law must be rationally related to a legitimate government interest."  Even under strict scrutiny a law may stand so long as: "legislature must have passed the law to further a "compelling governmental interest," and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest."  

      Inasmuch as a traffic fine targets income in order to have a deterrent effect, and this effect diminishes with income, there is arguably  "compelling governmental interest" at stake.  As such, there is little question that such a law passes muster if coming from a state or local government.  The question with reference to the federal government relates to Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution:

      The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States
      In the original formulation the invocation of the United States in this clause was intended to convey the plural, rather than the singular, sense.  Direct federal taxation, is a relatively new phenomena.  Up until the beginning of the 20th century, more than half of federal government revenue came from tariffs. Compunding this was Section 1, Article 9.
      No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
      Thus, any direct taxation by the federal government must be designed so as to be lain with reference to that states proportion of national population, or wealth. In other words, the invocation of this legal notion (since revoked by the 16th amendment is an invocation of state's rights, not those of individuals.  While it may not have been your intent to base your argument in neo-Confederate understandings of the US Constitution that certainly is what has happened in the end.

      by ManfromMiddletown on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 12:20:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I like the idea (3+ / 0-)

    of course it adds to the oligarchy's fear of the rising pitchfolks of us simple folks.  

    Whether or not progressive fines are legal or constitutional, they are equitable.  

    How we get to fairness, justice, and equity within our justice system which tends to tip in favor of wealth, power, race, etc is the difficult puzzle.  

    Surprisingly, we end up trying to structure fairness by doing things like tax credits or deductions or actual direct welfare when trying to give citizens money or money back, but in the area of punishment, we don't seem to have much history or traction within the US for equalizing that area, in fact our history has been the opposite... we enacted more draconian punishment for cocaine in the form of crack than for cocaine in the form of powder - because of class and race.

    Nice topic, though, and thanks for bringing it up.

    "Out of Many, One Nation." This is the great promise of these United States of America -9.75 -6.87

    by Uncle Moji on Sat Jun 28, 2014 at 10:59:07 AM PDT

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