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Europe pegs speeding fines to income; $290,000 ticket issued

The Star Tribune: Europe pegs speeding fines to income; $290,000 ticket issued

Last update: January 10, 2010 - 11:49 PM

GENEVA - European countries are increasingly pegging speeding fines to income as a way to punish wealthy scofflaws who would otherwise ignore tickets.

Advocates say a $290,000 speeding ticket slapped recently on a millionaire Ferrari driver in Switzerland was a fair and well-deserved example of the trend.

Germany, France, Austria and the Nordic countries also issue punishments based on a person’s wealth. In Germany the maximum fine can be as much as $16 million, compared with only $1 million in Switzerland. Finland regularly hands out hefty fines to speeding drivers, with the current record believed to be a ticket issued in 2004, then pegged at $190,000.

The Swiss court appeared to set a world record when it levied the fine in November on a man identified in the Swiss media only as "Roland S." Judges in the eastern canton of St. Gallen described him as a "traffic thug" in their verdict, which only recently came to light.

"As far as we’re concerned this is very good," Sabine Jurisch, a road safety campaigner with the Swiss group Road Cross.

She said rich drivers were lightly punished until Swiss voters approved a 2007 penal law overhaul that let judges hand down fines based on personal income and wealth for moderate misdemeanors, including excessive speeding and drunken driving. Before, they assigned small fixed penalties.

In the latest Swiss case, the court took into account the man’s history of similar offenses, the high speed with which he drove through a small village -- 60 miles per hour, nearly twice the limit -- and his estimated personal wealth of more than $20 million.

ASSOCIATED PRESS