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A $58,000 ticket: Finland’s income-based fines

| April 28, 2015

The more you make, the more you pay — that’s the principle behind Finland’s fines and speeding tickets. The New York Times recently reported a millionaire businessman was fined over $58,000 for doing 64 mph in a 50 mph zone. Fines for serious speeding infractions in Finland are based on income: “The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too.”

A late-night view of a clear Helsinki highway. Image by Bishwo Gimire.

A late-night view of a clear Helsinki highway. Image by Bishwo Gimire.

Reima Kuisla, 61, announced his speeding ticket in a series of angry posts on Facebook. He also posted a photo of a pricey Mercedes-Benz, which is what he says he could have bought instead of paying the ticket for 54,024 euros. He also threatened to move from the country, telling the Times, “The way things are done here makes no sense…For what and for whom does this society exist? It is hard to say.”

In many Scandinavian countries, which are popularly known for progressive taxes, progressive fines and punishment are also common. Finland uses a “day fine” system, explains the Times, which hails from the 1920s. Income-based fines were implemented for all lesser crimes. As a result, the system helped drop the country’s incarcerations. But the day fine system was instituted for petty crimes at a time when Finland had no speed limits on its roads. When speed limits were introduced, police had to trust drivers to declare their incomes honestly before they calculated the fine.

Today, of course, the police have easy electronic access to drivers’ tax information. How did this system work in Kuisla’s case? “The fines are calculated based on half an offender’s daily net income, with some consideration for the number of children under his or her roof and a deduction deemed to be enough to cover basic living expenses, currently 255 euros per month,” explains the Times. “Then, that figure is multiplied by the number of days of income the offender should lose, according to the severity of the offense.”

Kuisla’s punishment, based on how fast he was driving, was the equivalent of eight days of income. The fine was calculated based on his 2013 income, which was over $7 million. (If Kuisla made about $54,000 yearly, and had no young children, for example, he would’ve been fined about $370.) This isn’t the first time Kuisla racked up high fines for speeding. In 2013, he sped about 25 mph above the limit in a 50 mph zone, resulting in a ticket of over $83,000. The priciest punishment doled out so far was issued back in 2002. A Nokia executive received a $103,600 fine calculated from his $12.5 million annual income. Ultimately, both of those fines were reduced.

Reactions to the ticket in Finland varied. As the Times reports, one 35-year-old grad student expressed understanding for Kuisla, but felt the speeding tickets’ percentage basis was fair. Plus, he said, Kuisla “had a choice when he decided to speed.” As Pasi Kemppainen, chief superintendent of the National Police Board, explained, “It is an old system…It may lead to high fines, but only for people who can afford it.” Kuisla, of course, felt otherwise. “Finland is impossible to live in for certain kinds of people who have high incomes and wealth. I’m considering leaving the country,” he announced on his Facebook page.

Speeding is still a crime in Finland. Next year, a government commission will determine whether to stop issuing steep speeding fines and separate speeding tickets from the criminal justice system.

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Category: News, Regulations

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