Time to relate fines to income

Last week saw the introduction of penalty points for errant (speeding) drivers and an increase in the speeding fine from €60 to €80.

Let’s leave the points system aside for a moment. The increase in the fine is supposed to be a deterrent. But it is a completely different deterrent to different people. Eighty euro is a significant amount of money to someone on the minimum wage but it is a mere trifle to those on €50k plus.

I can’t understand how the system of fixed fines has managed to continue for so long since it is blatantly unfair and disproportionately weighted against the poor.

If Pat Rabbitte is looking for some idea to invigorate his new leadership of the Labour Party he could do worse than campaign to overhaul this rotten system.

There was a move to introduce a fairer system in England a few years back but the middle classes were up in arms and the plan never got past the testing phase.

The national minimum wage is €6.35 per hour. That’s €254 for a 40 hour week or €13,208 a year. Therefore a €80 fine represents 0.6 per cent of the minimum wage worker’s annual wage. A similar hit on the €50k speeding executive would be €302. Now you’re talking.

But that’s not all. The tax system acknowledges the ability (and the fairness) of higher earners paying more. Therefore the executive pays his/her marginal tax at 42 per cent. If the same principal was applied to fines the executive should be paying €636 for speeding if the financial impact is supposed to be the same for everyone.

What the figures show is how the justice system is pitched against the poorest. It’s no wonder that many working people end up in prison for not paying fines while the better off find ways to set the cost against tax.

Instinctively I dislike the penalty points system because it hands more power to the State over the citizen. I might be more amenable to it if there was any evidence that it will be administered justly.

My own experience with speeding fines tells me that the guards set up traps where they will make an easy fine and not to support road safety. There should be a audit system that shows that enforcement measures are deployed in the areas and time of day when motorists are most at risk.

I don’t have any confidence in the gardai to administer the system fairly.

As well as that…

Just let the State walk all over you

A particularly outrageous proposal in the penalty points system is the plan to punish those who take their case to court with extra penalty points.

So the guards will now be judge, jury and executioner. Great. Just at the time when the credibility of the gardai is nose-diving the Government are giving them more tools with which to harass their enemies.

When it was pointed out to Seamus Brennan that this was interfering with your constitutional right to appear in front of a court he said that the actual penalty was four points and that two are knocked off for admitting guilt.

Get it? You are not getting the extra points for going to court – you are losing two points for paying up. There is, according to Seamus Brennan, a constitutional difference. The word ‘crap’ springs to mind.

What about slow drivers?

Other states have driving offences aimed at curbing the activities of those who don’t ‘go with the flow’ whether it be too fast or too slow.

In my view there should be penalty points for driving too slow.

How would you spot such an offender?

I suggest putting a garda out on a Sunday night on any national route and observe the 40 car queue backed up behind some moron doing 35mph.

It’s very simple. If you can’t drive your car at 55mph on a national route you shouldn’t have a licence.