In February 2021, a year-old Facebook post was shared tens of thousands of times, bearing the claim that in Finland, “speeding tickets are calculated based on your income”:
The post, which was originally shared by the page “The Feminist Revolution,” began with a portion repeated at the top:
Did you know?
In Finland, speeding tickets are calculated based on your income – causing some Finnish millionaires to pay fines of over $100,000. [Source]
Three comments followed in an undated exchange on Tumblr involving accounts did-you-kno, redbloodedamerica, alternian-neverland, and prochoice-or-gtfo. Comments included in the screenshot were as follows:
In Finland, speeding tickets are calculated based on your income – causing some Finnish millionaires to pay fines of over $100,000. Source
This is what “equality” looks like in that liberal fairy tale land of Finland. They punish you proportionately to how successful you are. Sounds really “fair.”
Except… it is fair? Because it’s proportionate. I don’t get what’s difficult about that. An impoverished person paying $400 dollar fine isn’t the same as a millionaire paying the same amount. For the poor person, $400 dollars could mean starving. Would you really claim it would have the same consequence for a rich man? Would it even be noticeable to him, while the absence of food in their stomach would be glaring to a poorer man? Would it be fair for a man to starve for the same crime as a man that would be having a three course meal?
By taking income into account, it allows the impoverished able to still survive while paying any fines they may incur. And, ultimately, while $100,000 dollars would be noticeable to a millionaire, they would still get by. And, assuming the law is properly implemented, they would be paying the same equivalent of their yearly income that a poorer person would. That’s what makes it fair. They would be impacted the same way – but you are looking at the amount rather than the equation.
Also, it’s important to make sure that even the rich would pause at the cost of a fine. They need to fear the law just as a poor man does.
Oh no… rich people facing fines that might actually make them consider not doing illegal things because the punishments might actually hurt them… how unfair…
On the linked thread, three additional comments were visible:
Finnish person here. Our speeding ticket system owns and only people who bitch about them are people who wanna break the laws – the loudest whiners are the rich people who think they can just pay their way out of trouble and that’s why we have laws like that.
Like wtf. Some people have been so brainwashed by capitalism and worship of the rich that they literally can’t tell the difference between fairness and unfairness anymore.
It IS fair. The fact that it flies in the status quo so much should make you think about that status quo.
In August 2015, the topic appeared on Reddit’s r/todayilearned:
On Tumblr, the “[Source]” part of the original comment linked to an April 25 2015 New York Times article titled “Speeding in Finland Can Cost a Fortune, if You Already Have One.” It mentioned a Facebook post:
HELSINKI, Finland — Getting a speeding ticket is not a feel-good moment for anyone. But consider Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman.
He was recently fined 54,024 euros (about $58,000) for traveling a modest, if illegal, 64 miles per hour in a 50 m.p.h. zone. And no, the 54,024 euros did not turn out to be a typo, or a mistake of any kind.
Mr. Kuisla is a millionaire, and in Finland the fines for more serious speeding infractions are calculated according to income. The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too.
The ticket had its desired effect. Mr. Kuisla, 61, took to Facebook last month [in March 2015] with 12 furious posts in which he included a picture of his speeding ticket and a picture of what 54,024 euros could buy if it were not going to the state coffers — a new Mercedes. He said he was seriously considering leaving Finland altogether, a position to which he held firm when reached by phone at a bar where he was watching horse races.
The Times went on to state the situationally hefty fine for speeding dated back nearly a century, explaining that fines were assessed based on the severity of the infraction multiplied by a portion of daily income:
In fact, the Finnish “day fine” system, also in use in some other Scandinavian countries, dates to the 1920s, when fines based on income were instituted for all manner of lesser crimes, such as petty theft and assault, and helped greatly reduce the prison population.
The fines are calculated based on half an offender’s daily net income, with some consideration for the number of children under his or her roof and a deduction deemed to be enough to cover basic living expenses, currently 255 euros per month … Given the speed he was going, Mr. Kuisla was assessed eight days. His fine was then calculated from his 2013 income, 6,559,742 euros, or more than $7 million at current exchange rates.
At the time of the Facebook post, the incident was well-documented. The BBC also reported on the incident and noted fellow Finns were often unsympathetic:
There’s little sympathy from his fellow Finns on social media. “If you follow the rules you won’t have to pay fines,” says one user commenting on the Iltalehti website. “He should stop complaining and hang his head in shame instead”. Another person says: “Small fines won’t deter the rich – fines have to ‘bite’ everyone the same way.” But some say the system isn’t fair, and punishes the rich in society. Mr Kuisla might be grateful he doesn’t earn more. In 2002, an executive at Nokia was slapped with a 116,000-euro fine for speeding on his Harley Davidson motorbike. His penalty was based on a salary of 14m euros.
The Guardian provided further context in a March 4 2015 item:
In the past Finnish police had difficulties calculating the size of a fine because people tended to lie about their income when they were caught speeding – but the advent of mobile technology has meant that tax returns can now be verified directly at the roadside.
In 2001 an attempt to cap the amount motorists could be fined was thoroughly rejected by parliament.
All this may seem quite alien to those in other countries, but progressive punishment is actually in action in a number of jurisdictions including Sweden and Germany.
In June 2018, the World Economic Forum published a piece about income-based fines, noting that other European countries had similar sliding scales for fines, as well:
Finland isn’t the only country to apply so-called “progressive punishment” to speeding fines.
Switzerland uses a similar system, and currently holds the world record for a speeding ticket. It was handed to a Swedish motorist in 2010 who was caught driving at 290km/h. He was fined 3,600 Swiss francs per day for 300 days – around 1,080,000 Swiss francs ($1,091,340) in total.
The UK introduced tougher speeding penalties in 2017. Drivers can be fined up to 175% of their weekly income, on a sliding scale depending on the severity of the offence. However, the amount is capped at £2,500 ($3,310).
While European countries lead the way for the biggest speeding fines, they also lead in impounding cars, and imprisoning drivers too.
France, Finland, Spain and Germany all have laws that can send speeding repeat offenders to jail.
In December 2018, an article (“The Constitutionality of Income-Based Fines”) was published in the The University of Chicago Law Review, citing the March 2015 fine in Finland and examining whether a similar system could be implemented in the United States:
In America, fines are typically imposed without regard to income. The result is a system that traps low-income offenders in a cycle of debt and jail while letting rich offenders break the law without meaningful financial consequence. One-size-fits-all fines also fail to meet basic goals of the justice system: to treat like offenders alike, punish the deserving, and encourage respect for the law. Elsewhere in the world, however, systems that assess fines based on earnings have been around for nearly one hundred years. The most common model—known as the “day fine”—scales penalties according to a person’s daily income. These models are credited with ensuring proportionality in sentencing, improving the effectiveness of fines as a sanction, and even allowing fines to serve as an alternative to incarceration. They can also lead to startling results, such as a €54,000 speeding ticket assessed to a Finnish businessman. This Article is the first in-depth attempt to examine the constitutionality of a system of income-based fines that would levy significant financial penalties on the wealthy. Ultimately, it concludes that potential constitutional obstacles—arising primarily from the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment—are navigable, especially if a US system caps how high fines can go. As more people awaken to the burden that criminal justice debt imposes on the poor, this Article suggests that now may be an opportunity for a larger reconceptualization of financial sanctions—away from the inflexible fine and toward income proportionality.
Finland’s system was referenced in the course of the review, as the first one to be introduced globally:
In day-fine systems, by contrast, offender income plays a central role. First implemented in Finland in 1921, day fines are used across Europe and Latin America, including in Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, and Sweden. Although the specifics of each system differ—such as in how extensively they use day fines, how they calculate income and penalties, and whether caps limit how high a fine can go—the basic structure is the same: fines vary according to a person’s financial means. Take the German system: An offense is first assigned a number of “fine unit[s]” based on its seriousness, from 5 units, for the least serious, to 360. Next, courts determine a person’s daily income by, for instance, consulting public records and interviewing the offender. The amount of a fine is then calculated by multiplying those numbers together. So for an offense carrying a punishment of ten units, a person with a daily income of €100 would pay a €1,000 fine, while a person with a daily income of €50 would pay €500.
In short, the screenshot of a Tumblr post was accurate — due to Finland’s “day fine” system, infractions such as speeding led to fines based on the income of the individual cited — famously leading to a €54,000 speeding ticket in March 2015. Finns typically approve of the system, and other countries in Europe and Latin America maintain similar penalties.