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Problems with Progressive Traffic Fines in the United States

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Problems with Progressive Traffic Fines in the United States

Bill Crittenden
December 20, 2010

A discussion on Political Forum suggests that traffic fines should be progressive in the United States, much as they are in Finland or Switzerland.  This means the more a person makes, the more they pay.  The idea is that a $150 fine for a poor person hurts them a lot more than the same fine for a wealthy person, so by forcing them to pay based on percentage of income it would improve road safety because the wealthy are hardly punished at all by relatively small traffic ticket fines.

My (somewhat quick) response was as follows:

What would it cost in recordkeeping and administration to determine how much each person makes so that it can be determined how much they should pay?  The IRS is inefficient enough without having to distribute personal income level information to every local police department that asks for it, or to maintain a secure database system that allows municipalities to query it to determine ticket payments without making the income levels of all Americans available to anyone who might use the information for other purposes (Wikileaks, perhaps?). What about that bit of work, every police department having to track down a person's income level every time a traffic ticket is written?

What about separations and divorces? Do you pay based on your former combined income or do you have to file some more paperwork to prove your income level apart from your former spouse? You'd almost have to refile the whole federal tax paperwork to account for separate dependents and to divide the charitable contributions...all to pay a speeding ticket. What happens when you get a ticket in January but you have until April to file the previous year's returns? Does a municipality have to wait to get paid, or do you pay under the income level from 2 years ago, even if it dropped significantly, as has happened for many people in this economy?

It's ridiculous just how many problems there would be with implementing this system here in the United States.

There are more effective (more efficient) ways to reduce speeding and increase safety without resorting to something that would result in class warfare arguments and bloating government bureaucracy even further. Sure, it works in other countries, but only because they're smaller countries that can afford the smaller investments required to put such a system in place. And they don't have our ridiculous IRS to try and get the data from.



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