Proportional Speeding Fines

During a long drive home from University last week, my brother and I were parked in the middle lane of the motorway at a solid 80, watching far more expensive and beautiful cars* speed past us at speeds well in excess of 100. It got us talking about the skewed and regressive effect of speeding fines. The standard fine is (I think) £60 for going over the speeding limit. For someone earning £12,000, this translates to about 25% of their weekly budget. Given the costs of food, rent, heating and the like, the £60 is likely to have a fairly major impact on this person’s week. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unfair – I’m generally very liberal, but I have little time for road offenses. Nonetheless if we compare this 25% with the proportional effect of the fine on someone who earns £120,000, which would be about 2.5% of their week’s income, we see an uncomfortable discrepancy.

If the effect of the fine is to act as a deterrent, then it would appear that the poor are subject to a far more harsh deterrent than the rich. It might be objected that everyone, rich or poor, has only 12 points on their license to fill before it is revoked, but this isn’t enough. The poor then have a double deterrent whilst the rich can ignore the financial fine and speed three times with limited repercussions (insurance costs notwithstanding). It might be said that the points deter the rich whilst the money deters the poor, but this would hardly be fair. The rich are only undeterred by the fines because they are so low. If the fines were proportional to one’s income, then rich and poor would both have a double deterrent; far more fair.


Really even this proposition is very conservative. If our £120,000 person were fined £600 to the poor person’s £60 then it would be strictly proportional, but the marginal effect of £60 to someone who takes home £240 is far greater than the £600 which would leave Mr. Rich with £1800 that week. The poor person might have to forfeit heating, whilst any sacrifices the rich person might have to make will be far less disruptive. It’s a basic liberal principle that the punishment should be proportional to the crime, but to this we should add the proviso that proportionality must be relative to the situation of the offender. We have this, to an extent, in our courts. Why not on our roads?

* Not that a Vauxhall Corsa isn’t beautiful, but we’re in the realm of the subjective here.



Filed under Transport

3 responses to “Proportional Speeding Fines

  1. Pyrrhus

    Several Nordic countries have such a proportional fine system for speeding, relating the fine amount to the individual’s income from the previous year, albeit with some kind of upper bound. Finland, however, appears to have no such upper bound, the result being that some individuals have ended up paying high sums for a speeding offence. (See If the purpose of speeding fines is, as it should be, to deter dangerous driving / driving at speeds that are likely to endanger other road users etc., then I absolutely agree with you that a proportional system appears to be the most effective way of providing this deterrent to all drivers, rich or poor. Everyone ought to pay the same price for committing the same offence and £60 is manifestly not the same price for a millionaire as it is for a low-paid worker.

    However, there are still some practical difficulties. In an ideal system, driving that is truly dangerous for others and driving that is punished would all be the same thing, but obviously this isn’t the case in the real world. It might be dangerous to speed in a residential area during the day but perhaps not at three in the morning. Sometimes speed limits might be on roads not for the purpose of preventing dangerous driving but to act as speed traps to increase revenue. There will, in any system of regulation, be cases that pose no serious danger yet result in a fine such that middle-income drivers may end up having to pay a small fortune for no good reason. The Scandinavian systems, whilst less unjust than that in Britain, are not without flaws common to any system of regulation.

  2. crossdale

    I agree that, as with all such laws, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. I was just playing around with the philosophical principle. Another argument against it is that more expensive cars are likely to be much less dangerous at high speeds than my Corsa. It would still be preferable to our current system though.

  3. Ste For Sure

    i was thinking this exact thing about parking fines the other day

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