Simon Lim, regular opinion writer, proposed in a Facebook post that Singapore should adopt a fine system based on income for traffic offences where fine amounts are determined based on a person’s total yearly income.
Suggesting that this would be a way to make Singapore a ‘truer equal society’, Mr Lim suggests that the current flat-rate fine system is unfair to people of lower-income groups. For example, the driver of a Maserati would be charged the same fine amount for beating a red light as someone driving a Hyundai. This is unfair because it’s safe to assume that the person driving a Maserati earns a higher income than the Hyundai driver and therefore the fine is less of a burden to the higher earner.
Mr Lim says that the impact of a S$200 fine to multi-millionaire is nothing compared to those who earn much less. To the millionaires and billionaires, fines like these are just ‘loose change’, elaborated Mr Lim. Not only is the current system unfair across income groups, fines also end up being less of a deterrent for those in a higher income bracket.
While it may seem drastic in this part of the world, the system Mr Lim suggested has been implemented in countries like Finland where it has overwhelming support from the public. Tapio Lappi-Seppälä of the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy told The Atlantic that for many Finns, “it is a matter of social justice and equal impact of punishment”.
In the same Altantic article, professor of applied economics Marc Bellemare at the University of Minnesota said that fines calculated based on income would result in people being ‘at least risk averse’ meaning that the deterrence effect of fines would be the same across income levels.
In Finland, police officers have instant access to a database which tells them how much a person’s annual income is. From there, a quick calculation is made based on the person’s estimated daily spending amount and a multiplier of how many days the offender must go without that money determined based on the severity of the crime. That’s how in Finland, people can be fined up to tens of thousands for going a few kph over the speed limit.
Mr Lim says, “I would like to suggest to the authorities that we must be bold, refreshing, radical even and step out of our comfort zone and change to a better system of punishing traffic offenders.”