Should B.C. drivers face traffic fines based on their income level?
The debate over the concept was reignited this week, after a new driver was caught driving at double the posted speed limit in North Vancouver, and violating several requirements of his “L” licence.
The concept of means-tested traffic fines isn’t new. Finland, Switzerland and Sweden have all implemented a similar approach.
Finland made headlines in 2015 when a millionaire businessman received a €54,000 fine — about CAD $77,500 — for travelling about 20 kilometres per hour over the speed limit.
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The idea is now before the B.C. government for review, after delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention (UBCM) approved a resolution by the City of New Westminster to send it to Victoria.
Saanich Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff spearheaded a similar effort in his community in January, and said he hopes the province adopts the idea.
He said flat rate tickets disproportionately punish people in lower income brackets, while also failing to deter the ultra wealthy from speeding.
“The problem is a $100-fine doesn’t mean the same thing to someone making $35,000-per year as it does to someone making $350,000,” he said.
“The goal we want to have is people following the rules. Ultimately we don’t want to be giving out tickets, we want people following traffic rules and making sure our roads are safe. But if you break traffic rules we want to make sure you don’t do it again.”
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New Westminster City Coun. Daniel Fontaine agreed there is a need to stiffen deterrents for excessive speeders.
But he said he had “serious concerns” about the means-tested approach.
“There’s a lot of loopholes and a lot of things that can happen when you have means testing — for example, if that person has an L on their car, they could be a young student, their income might be nothing,” he said.
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He said means-testing a fine would also call into question hundreds of other bylaws and regulations that use flat fees and fines, while moving away from the idea of treating people the same.
Middle-income earners would likely end up with the biggest relative hit to the pocketbook, he said, while the truly ultra-wealthy would still easily be able to pay a massive fine.
“Once you go down that road, I dare say it’s a bit of a slippery slope. I am not sure we know where that road will end,” he said.
Fontaine said he would rather see the province look at stiffer licence suspensions or even banning egregious offenders from accessing insurance through ICBC as a deterrent.
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Phelps Bondaroff acknowledged there were challenges to the approach, including applying it to young drivers or individuals who may be hiding their wealth.
But he said European countries have been able to overcome those issues, and have seen positive results when it comes to road safety.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province is open to studying the approach, but that it would require more than simple provincial legislation.
“It’s not something that could be just done by the province — it would require us to negotiate with Ottawa and in particular Revenue Canada to have access to the actual income of an individual,” he said. “But certainly open to it.”
There was no immediate timeline for the province to review the UBCM’s submission on the concept.
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