A Finnish Man Got a $60,000 Speeding Ticket — and That's Exactly What It Should Be
Millionaires of the world, beware of Finnish traffic law.
The BBC reports that when businessman Reima Kuisla was pulled over for going 64 mph in a 50-mph zone in Finland, he was tagged with a 54,000-euro fine, or just short of $60,000. Ouch.
Most people would consider anything north of $100 quite painful, but in Finland, speeding fines are calculated based on the perpetrator's daily income. Finnish authorities looked at Kuisla's 2013 tax returns and found he made 6.5 million euros (around $7.15 million) that year. Based on that figure, Kuisla was ordered to pay the 54,000-euro fine.
Kuisla, bitterly complaining the country was making it too hard for "certain kinds of people" to survive, wrote an all-caps Facebook post that, according to the BBC, roughly reads:
"TEN YEARS AGO I WOULDN'T HAVE BELIEVED THAT I WOULD SERIOUSLY CONSIDER MOVING ABROAD. FINLAND IS IMPOSSIBLE TO LIVE IN FOR CERTAIN KINDS OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE HIGH INCOMES AND WEALTH."
Cry me a river: Most countries have a progressive tax code, under which the rich pay a greater proportion of their income than the middle class or poor. Finland also happens to have a progressive criminal code.
"This is a Nordic tradition," Ministry of the Interior special planning adviser Erkki Wuoma told the Wall Street Journal in 2001. "We have progressive taxation and progressive punishments. So the more you earn, the more you pay."
Though 54,000 euros may seem steep, Kuisla's fine works out to approximately 0.83% of his reported income. That would translate to a fine of approximately $415 for a person making $50,000 — certainly high by American standards, but not exactly devastating. Considering speeding on the highway can be a matter of life or death for both the driver and any others around him, perhaps higher fines shouldn't be so easily dismissed.
The theory goes that since the rich can more easily afford to pay high tickets, progressive fines prevent them from walking away from crimes and misconduct with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The $60,000 fine might infuriate right-wingers and the rich, but it's actually just a method of ensuring that the very wealthy have to live and play by the same rules as the rest of the rabble. "Certain kinds of people" get no special treatment.
Such a system might look unimaginable in the U.S., where the moneyed elite can wreck the entire economy and walk away without any penalties whatsoever. But both the BBC and the Wall Street Journal reported that the progressive fine system is rather popular in Finland. As the Guardian notes, an attempt to cap the fines in 2001 was "thoroughly rejected by parliament."
Not a problem for the rich: To put this in perspective, compare and contrast how Finland and the U.S. treat the wealthiest of their reckless motorists.
Take Alice Walton. As Mic reported in January 2014, the billionaire Walmart heiress has been involved in a disturbing series of alleged drunk-driving incidents (including one that killed a 50-year-old cannery worker). Not only did she evade any punishment or jail time, but all of the charges were totally expunged.
In fact, according to 1998 testimony reported by the Los Angeles Times, Walton saw herself as being so above the law that when she drove drunk and totaled an SUV in Springdale, Arkansas, she rhetorically asked the responding officers charging her with a DWI, "Do you know who I am? Do you know my last name?"
On the other hand, poor people, especially racial minorities, have no such recourse. In fact, they're often targeted for tickets. In Illinois, a WBBM Newsradio analysis found that 61% of stopped minorities were issued a ticket. That number was just 52% for whites.
Other studies have produced similar results in various locations, as well as found the problem extends past just traffic tickets. In New York, for example, blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to be ticketed than whites in low-crime mainly white neighborhoods.
When people can't pay their fines, they can often land in jail. A 2014 NPR investigation found that debtors' prisons remain common in state and local jurisdictions throughout the country, usually for people who can't pay civil fines. Nicole Bolden of Missouri claims she spent an entire weekend being mistreated in jail in 2014 because she couldn't afford to immediately pay off $1,758 in parking tickets.
A $60,000 traffic ticket for a multimillionaire seems like a relative inconvenience compared to that.