As much as drivers complain about traffic laws in the U.S., a small glimpse into Finland’s legal system and traffic violation regulations is offering some valuable perspective; although Finnish traffic fines have been based on a sliding scale for many years now, Business Insider states, a slew of violations involving high-profile celebrities, athletes, and entrepreneurs has won the attention of American media outlets lately.
Quite simply, according to Finnish legislation, when you break a traffic law, the fine you receive is based on how much income you make.
For example, Finnish businessman Reima Kuisla was recently pulled over while driving 64 mph in a 50 mph zone. After looking at Kuisla’s 2013 tax returns and finding that he had made about $7.2 million that year, local authorities issued him a speeding ticket fine of approximately $60,000.
Finnish 27-year-old internet entrepreneur Jaako Rytsola encountered a similar experience when he was driving down an empty expressway at 43 mph, despite the 25 mph speed limit. When he was pulled over and the police officer checked the tax information database (which all police cars in Finland have, along with traditional radar and ID scanners), Rytsola was given a ticket for $71,400.
As The Atlantic notes, this “sliding scale” tool isn’t uncommon in many European countries; Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, and Switzerland all have scales similar to that of Finland when it comes to issuing traffic fines.
In the U.S., however, sliding scale traffic fines have remained “exotic” — despite being tested out in multiple areas since the 1980s. The major advantage of these scales, The Atlantic explains, is that studies have proven that “wealthier people…[tend to] drive more recklessly than those who make less money, and even Steve Jobs was known to park in handicapped spots and drive around without license plates.”
But why does any of this matter to American drivers right now?
It’s actually connected to the ongoing turbulence in Ferguson Missouri. After the Department of Justice issued a comprehensive report at the beginning of March regarding the state of Ferguson’s law enforcement policies, people across the country were outraged to find that law enforcement policies have been geared toward making profits for the city, rather than focusing on public safety.
And this recent report from Ferguson has Americans across the country wondering if their own cities are more concerned with profits or with public safety; whether flat-rate traffic fines are actually effective, or whether they simply widen the gap between wealthier and poorer residents.
“I don’t think that California will ever use sliding scale tickets,” says Amir Soleimanian, Owner/Founder, 4 Mr. Ticket. “Here, it doesn’t matter how much money you make. With 12-14 million tickets issued each year in California, there’s no way they would be able to charge higher fines to people that make more money and lower fines to those that make less, it just wouldn’t happen.”
Regardless of whether this debate actually gains ground in the U.S. in the future, there’s one thing we can all be thankful for: at least we aren’t millionaires living (and speeding) in Finland.