I had the misfortune, recently, of being issued a citation for turning on a yellow light. In this city, yellow is considered the same as red for this purpose. Go figure. Now I am several hundred dollars poorer. Here, I am assuming a minarchist approach, assuming that we are stuck with government traffic laws.
But I am not here to moan and groan over my misfortune. I simply wish to call attention to the injustice of traffic tickets as they are administered in the U.S. For a person who earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, a $400 fine is a minor inconvenience. For a single parent living one minimum wage, that same fine would be catastrophic. His children would suffer for it. Also, a person who barely gets by might not be able to afford insurance or keep the registration up to date. In that case, he may end up losing his car – and, along with it, his means of earning a livelihood. Two extreme examples, to be sure, but the fact remains that fixed fines necessarily punish the poor more than they punish the rich. Supposedly, government strives to be even-handed.
In Finland, the amount of the fine is based upon the victim’s income. This seems like a much more fair system than what we have in the U.S. But it does have problems of its own. A sliding scale involves the government knowing how much money each citizen earns – and this should be none of its business. Perhaps a better solution would be to base the fine upon the estimated value of the car being driven. One drawback to this would be that people might buy very cheap cars for the express purpose of driving irresponsibly. This would surely cause many needless deaths and injuries. Another drawback is that traffic cops would focus mainly on fancy cars, so much so that few would want to drive them. It would also severely harm the auto industry and it would unjustly target the wealthy. This system would have to be coupled with criminal charges against repeat offenders and oversight to help prevent abuse.
Like so many other government programs, there can be no fairness unless so many safeguards, stipulations and oversights are added that it becomes too complex to ever work properly. In our quest to make traffic tickets “fair”, they would become as convoluted as the I.R.S. tax code. Nobody would understand them and we would all have to hire expensive attorneys to defend us – who would charge more than the initial fine itself.