2 minute read
Is the traffic fine system in Australia fair? In Australia we have a flat-rate system, meaning that regardless of the difference in income, hypothetically, every person who commits the same traffic offence receives the same penalty.
It’s also well-known that our traffic fines can be quite hefty. In 2019, the average fine for going 21km/h over the posted limit in Australia was $401, ranking the sixth most expensive in the world.
Earlier this year, the Queensland Government announced an increase in fines for running a red light, not wearing a seatbelt and speeding. Effective from July 1st 2022, Queenslanders caught not wearing a seatbelt will receive three demerit points and be fined over $1000, more than double the previous fine of $403 (find out more about the fines).
Not wearing a seatbelt is one of the Five Fatal Factors which cause roughly nine in ten fatal crashes. In Queensland, 7% of the population drive without wearing a seatbelt and every year 31 crash fatalities are found not wearing an appropriate restraint. With a proportion of the community not putting their safety and the safety of others at the forefront when driving, can heavy fines be justified in this sense?
In Finland and many European countries, traffic offenders are required to pay ‘day-fines’ in which the fine is determined by how many days an offender should go without a portion of their daily income. The number of days is determined by how severe the offence is. More simply, day-fines typically work like this:
Daily salary ÷ 2 × days the offender must go without that money = fine
The fine could change drastically depending on the offender’s income, ensuring that every person is fined on the same basis – no matter how much they earn.
In Switzerland, which uses the day-fine system, an anonymous driver received both the largest speeding fine in the world and a listing in the Guinness World Records in 2010 with a ticket close to $300,000 USD.
Would this system work in Australia though?
An Australian research paper released in 2016 looked into the day-fine system. It stated that day-fines provide similar incentives for all drivers, regardless of wealth, to obey the law and thus would make things fairer. Day-fines would most notably reduce the burden of traffic fines on the lowest income earners and the report stated that overall, most states would see some increase in fines issued.
However, the report ultimately re-stated that it is unclear how day-fines would have a genuine effect on reducing road trauma – quoting that academic research is inconclusive about whether changes to fines have an impact on overall road safety.
Heavy penalties are currently used to deter road users from breaking the rules and having day-fines could be a push towards equality. The question remains in whether such harsh fines will be enough to influence Australian drivers to make safer choices on our roads.
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