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Govt plan to plug finances with higher traffic fines a flop

Government’s plan to raise cash by forcing motorists to pay higher fines for traffic offences has fallen short of expectations. Instead of increased income from fines collected, officials have reported more warnings as motorists adjust their driving habits to cope with the heavier penalties.

Kuorma- ja henkilöautoja maantiellä.
Image: Yle

About one year ago, Juha Sipilä’s administration hit upon the idea of killing two birds with one stone: it would beef up income from fines handed out to erring motorists while at the same time improving road safety.

The aim was to increase the revenue from summary fines from 38 to 45 million euros. However, initial estimates put the take from the fines this year at far less than that – at between 24 and 25 million euros, just one million more than in 2015.

So far fines collected during the first half of the year – from January to July – have amounted to 14 million euros. Officials do not expect the pace to pick up during the last few months of the year.

More motorists easing off the gas pedal

Director of the police traffic safety centre, chief inspector Dennis Pasterstein placed the blame for the decline in fine revenues squarely behind the steering wheel – on drivers.

"Motorists are lighter on the gas. The number of warnings for speeding has increased to 60 percent of all verbal warnings, compared to 40 – 50 percent before," he said.

Moreover cases of exceeding the speed limit began to decline since last autumn, when the spot fine for speeding increased from between 70 and 115 euros to 140-200 euros.

Motorists receive a warning when they exceed the speed limit by between three and seven kilometres an hour and receive spot fines when their road speed runs eight to 20 kilometres above the stipulated limit. Once their speed goes beyond 20 kilometres an hour above the limit, they are then slapped with day fines.

In a bid to help the government meet its earnings target from the system of fines, police are now considering whether or not to reduce the threshold for summary fines by one or two kilometres an hour. 

If the threshold falls by one kilometer an hour, government would stand to collect 40,000 euros more each year, given current road behavior. A decline of one to two kilometres an hour would put an additional eight to 16 million euros annually in government coffers. However if road users respond to the lower threshold by continuing to ease up off the throttle, government may still not pull in the cash it needs. Police are expected to make a decision on the fine thresholds in the weeks ahead.

More speed cameras coming

In an effort to help make the revenue targets, police have installed more speed cameras and by the beginning of next year the number deployed should rise from 60 to 150.

According to Pasterstein in addition to cameras, police will also be looking to increase manpower. He said more hands will be needed on deck if government wants to reach its annual income goal of 40 million euros.

"The police traffic safety centre and police stations would need close to 20 employees more to monitor the automatic camera system," he pointed out.

The administration also sought to boost fine revenues by further increasing the maximum spot fine to 345 euros, but that measure was hastily put down when it ran afoul of the constitution.

The constitution prevents the state from hiking fines on the basis of financial need; rather such increases should aim to enhance road traffic safety. Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee is due to ponder the setback to the move to further ratchet up summary fines during the autumn.

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