How could South Australia could ‘Finnish’ traffic fines

A new report models a progressive traffic fine system, based on the Finnish model, for South Australia. 

Progressive traffic fines, based on income, rather than flat fees, have been successfully implemented in Scandinavia. The Australia Institute has released a report looking specifically at how the policy could be adopted in South Australia.

The report, From Start to Finnish, looks at two methods of implementing the model, one being revenue neutral, and the other reducing the overall fine collection in the state with Australia’s highest traffic fines.

“The purpose of traffic fines is to provide a disincentive for dangerous driving. But if the fine is effectively nothing for a high income person, it doesn’t do the job as intended,” Report author, Jesper Lindqvist said.

“On the other side, we have fines representing an enormous, disproportionate amount of a low-income persons income, which can cause problems that go beyond what the traffic fine system is designed to do.

“South Australia is the highest traffic fine jurisdiction in Australia, with an average fine of $410, compared to $305 in NSW, $250 in Northern Territory, $203 in Queensland and $157 in Tasmania. 

“We looked at two ways by which South Australia could implement an income-based traffic fine system, one directly translated from Finland – which would result in a decrease in average fines, and one which would keep average fines the same and remain revenue neutral. 

“Traffic fines are designed to be a disincentive, for road safety. We need to ensure that the ‘slap on the wrist’ is equivalent – and that means making the financial penalty reflect an offender’s financial means. 

“This is also a way to reduce the social harm caused when a very low income South Australian might incur what for them is a financially crippling fines, leading to more costly problems, ranging from crisis assistance to potential engagement the justice system. 

“The Finnish Government officials we engages with as part of this research reported that the ease and low cost of administering the income-based system there. 

“Our report concludes that the Finnish system is fairer, and provides a more suitable incentive-structure than the current South Australian regime,” Lindqvist said.

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