Flat Fines Don’t Work, Make Them Variable

A fine, as a means of dissuading anti-social behaviour, is a pretty blunt instrument. It is hamstrung by one overarching factor that renders it useless to a large proportion of the population: marginal ability to pay.

In short, if you are rich the impact of a $150 fine for parking in a bike lane may be minimal, whereas if you are poor it could mean very real sacrifices in order to pay the fine. What is needed is a way to factor the fine by ones ability to pay in order to equally dissuade anti-social behaviour.

But how to asses someones ability to pay while writing a citation? The City obviously doesn’t have access to peoples income tax statements, so that option is out the window. What about based on the value of the car? Now there is an idea.

Since 1980 vehicle manufacturers have been required to equip their cars with standardized Vehicle Identification Numbers that, in part, describe the vehicle they are affixed to. Using publicly available databases specifics on the vehicle can be found, include the engine size and specific trim of the vehicle. Even if the vehicle has been modified or de-badged the information is still able to be derived from the VIN.

VIN Explained (Source)

Also conveniently the VIN is required to be displayed prominently and in multiple places, including at the bottom of the windshield on the drivers side and on the vehicle registration. Furthermore it is a crime to tamper with or remove the VIN from a vehicle.

Using a simple algorithm to look up the specific details of the car a multiplier can increase the fine based on the value of the car. This could be based on the blue-book average value of the car or based on specific criteria, such as engine size.

It is notable that other jurisdictions already assess fees and fines based on vehicle criteria. In the UK the “road tax” assessed on all vehicles both annually and at time of purchase is based on the CO² emissions of the vehicle. In Ireland motor vehicle taxes are assessed based on the size of the engine.

Let’s make fines do the job that they are supposed to do and dissuade anti-social behaviour more equitably.