catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Need for speed?

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Maybe Ted Baillieu is chasing the libertarian vote, because he’s having a go at Victoria’s punitive traffic offences regime in the lead up to the election. Among other things, he thinks that ‘going up to 11 km/hr above the limit should not be a punishable offence’. His stance is already attracting controversy among road safety advocates, although from what I’ve seen so far, it’s generating more heat than light.

Far more insightful is this thread over at LP, where Phil (among other things) gives a cyclist’s perspective on speeding cars. I’m not a cyclist, although I’m a regular pedestrian because I live within walking distance of the courthouse. That said, I do get to see the consequences of a (fairly punitive) traffic regime most days at work. So, from a lawyer’s point of view (particularly a lawyer interested in economic issues), I’m going to put up a piece I had to complete for my Law Society admission requirements, suitably edited to protect actual persons and to exclude irrelevant material.

I attended the ‘Arrest Court’ in Rockhampton on Friday July 28.


The mass of traffic offences

There were huge numbers of these – far and away more than anything else. I couldn’t help but notice that the great majority were unrepresented, and often received large fines and significant licence suspensions. In one case, a woman was fined $600 and lost her licence for 6 months. She was over the general alcohol limit (0.05) but under the high alcohol limit (0.1).

I personally found the lack of legal representation very concerning, and learned afterwards from the duty solicitor that legal aid will not fund representation in traffic matters unless there is a risk of gaol time. However, because she is paid an hourly rate by legal aid, there were some occasions where for the more serious but non gaolable traffic offences, she would represent anyway. On one occasion, the magistrate asked her to do this.

This leads to the paradoxical situation where someone will get representation in a $50 public nuisance matter (urinating in a park, say), but not in a potentially much more serious traffic matter.

Bail matters

Apart from traffic, there were many applications for bail variations, and some petty thefts. I found one of these amusing and fairly pointless, particularly as the young man in question had legal representation. He was caught shoplifting a $2.40 bottle of Powerade and detained by the store’s ‘loss prevention officer’ (since when did they cease being ‘store security’, I wonder?). He was fined $150 on recognizance – he will only pay this money if he does it again.


Observations of prisoners/accuseds

Overwhelmingly, the people before the Magistrate were poor whites, indigenous or otherwise disadvantaged. A couple exhibited the sort of ‘wandery’ behaviour I associate with mental illness, and sometimes this was explicitly cited by the duty solicitor in her defence. I found the presence of the cells directly under the court disturbing – it was possible to hear the hollow boom of cell doors closing, distorted announcements over the tannoy, shouting and name-calling. The police officer next to the dock left the door to the cells propped ajar with a pencil; I have no idea why.

Interestingly, I also noticed that the Magistrate went to some lengths to accommodate the people before her. She often set her fines at the bottom limit the legislation would allow; she would say ‘I will keep the fine as low as possible, in light of your circumstances’.

A significant number of people failed to appear, and were simply dealt with ex parte.


The opportunity cost of traffic fines

Because I know the magistrate, the police prosecutor and the duty solicitor personally, I asked them a few questions after sittings had finished for the day.

Both the Magistrate and the police prosecutor made the point that the punitive fines and punishments attached to traffic offences make their jobs harder. The police prosecutor pointed out that many more people (1) have a negative view of the police and (2) see them as revenue raisers, despite the fact that the police collect none of the money from the fines they hand out. It goes to the transport department [this may be different in other states]. He mentioned that people were often reluctant to assist the police in their ‘core’ business – protecting the public – and in some cases juries had been affected. ‘People who cop a speeding fine and then sit on a jury the following week are not exactly sympathetic to the police position’.

The magistrate mentioned that she no longer likes to divulge her occupation at social gatherings, as the moment people learn she is a magistrate, she ‘spends the night fielding traffic whinges’. She also felt that the lack of representation raised ‘a real issue of justice’. The police prosecutor added that the link between speeding and car accidents or injury is not always clear-cut. He added that the only ‘compulsory’ measure that demonstrates a causal link between its mandatory nature and improved road safety is the wearing of seat belts.

I strongly suspect that the legislature, in its desire to raise revenue, has failed to measure the opportunity cost of punitive penalties for traffic offences. There is undoubtedly an interesting study there for some motivated postgraduate.

I do not know whether what he says is true. Some libertarians oppose making even making seat-belts compulsory. Mind you, I haven’t ridden a bicycle since the helmets were made compulsory, either. They make my head hot, and as a diabetic I have to watch overheating/getting too thirsty. My ability to manage my health is, in my view, better than the government’s. I did wonder at the lack of middle-class people copping speeding fines, and wondered at the efficiency of linking fines to income. On balance, I think that it’s a superficially attractive idea but would be very bureaucratic to implement. Maybe speed traps should only be placed in known ‘black spots’. Maybe fuzz-busters should be legalised.

What do Catallaxians think?

Written by Admin

November 2, 2006 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

97 Responses

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  1. An interesting one for libertarians, this.


    November 2, 2006 at 8:44 pm

  2. No offence, but as a Northern Territorian I don’t care about piddly little things like how much over the limit one is in Victoria.

    I care far more that there will soon be a limit on the NT’s major highways.

    Jacques Chester

    November 2, 2006 at 8:50 pm

  3. I’m a Queenslander, Jacques. On my last visit to Victoria, I got the impression that the traffic coppers were worse than they are in Qld, and they’re pretty bad here.


    November 2, 2006 at 8:53 pm

  4. Not at all interesting, I wouldn’t have thought. There is *no* right to use a public dangerously or negligently.
    If you can afford massive head trauma, brain damage or spinal injury you can afford not to wear a bike helmet. If you’re a diabetic, take a big bottle of water and some food, plus your full kit if you need it and stay out of the sun where you can.
    Bicycle helmets I’ve owned have saved my life more than a few times, and they should be compulsory for the same reasons as seatbelts, vehicle pink slips, speed limits and all of the other road rules we have.
    On traffic fines, if you can afford to run a car you can afford to drive that car under the speed limit. It’s really simple—nobody who’s ever booked can argue that they didn’t know it was illegal.


    November 2, 2006 at 8:56 pm

  5. Of course there should be speed limits. I don’t have any magic answers on what the optimal speed limit should be but there should be one and it’s a matter of judgement. Using the same framework I set out in that post on dangerous dog breeds, the case for speed limits is based on the idea that it’s not efficient to rely solely on ex-post penalties (i.e. suing after the fact) when in order to have a smoothly functioning road system you don’t want to have to rely totally on people having lots of accidents and then suing each other and deterring each other that way.

    The issue is one of optimal deterrence of conduct that may be risky to third parties and there’s no reason to handicap ourselves by relying solely on fear of lawsuits as the only deterrent.

    Seatbelts on the other hand are actually a far less controversial issue – seatbelts are almost completely a paternalistic regulation. If anything they *increase* the risk for third parties because they reduce the cost to the driver of risky driving. There should be no seatbelt laws.

    Jason Soon

    November 2, 2006 at 8:57 pm

  6. Got a study to back up that claim, Jason?

    Jacques Chester

    November 2, 2006 at 9:01 pm

  7. [ahem] public road.


    November 2, 2006 at 9:02 pm

  8. Jacques,
    you mean the seatbelts claim?

    Yes, here

    Jason Soon

    November 2, 2006 at 9:03 pm

  9. It’s okay Liam, I figured that was what you meant. I’ll go in & edit if you like.

    What do people think of legalizing fuzzbusters and income differential fines?


    November 2, 2006 at 9:06 pm

  10. Jason;

    A trip to the ATSB website allowed me to discover that road fatalities of all kinds have trended downwards since 1970 when seatbelts were introduced.

    See this table:

    If we’re going with the correlation-causation argument, perhaps I could point out that the driving cultures of different countries are … well … different.

    Jacques Chester

    November 2, 2006 at 9:17 pm

  11. Read the article, Jacques. Peltzman’s claim is that seatbelts make things more dangerous for non-drivers. of course they’re going to save drivers’ lives. Anyway the claim isn’t necessary to the argument that seatbelts are paternalistic and are therefore not justifiable in the same league as speed limits.

    Jason Soon

    November 2, 2006 at 9:28 pm

  12. Just to clarify – Peltzman did also make the argument that seatbelts lead to more driver fatalities. I don’t necessarily think that’s so powerful nor is it the most powerful result of his applying economics to seatbelt laws. But the externality effect is I think a sound one.

    Jason Soon

    November 2, 2006 at 9:30 pm

  13. PS Jacques in any case your methodology is simplistic. What you want is a counterfactual test (i.e. the world ‘with’ and ‘without’), not just looking at a time series. I can’t recall what Peltzman did but I think he did attempt a counterfactual test and some econometrics.

    Jason Soon

    November 2, 2006 at 9:38 pm

  14. Yep, seatbelt laws are paternalistic. That’s not an argument against them, Jason.
    So is proper road engineering paternalistic, and legislated crash testing for cars paternalistic, and mandatory pink slips for old and used cars paternalistic, and age limits on licences paternalistic, and all of the other equivalent rules about using cars, motorcycles, and the road paternalistic. Too bad, you can all cope with clicking a belt clip into its buckle. Boo-hoo.

    Peltzman, furthermore, is arguing first, that people will respond rationally to incentives involving the risk of their own fiery burning painful death, and second, that the absence of safety measures is equal to the non-functioning of safety measures. I say, first contemplation of such fiery deaths is inherently irrational, because nobody likes to think of that, and secondly, driving a modern car with a one non-working headlight is in no way equivalent to driving an old pre-seatbelt car.
    It’s more complicated than that.


    November 2, 2006 at 9:39 pm

  15. “I did wonder at the lack of middle-class people copping speeding fines, and wondered at the efficiency of linking fines to income”

    There was a Swedish case where a person who cashed in his options was fined $110,000 for some minor speeding offense.

    It’s a bad idea. It’s a rotten, horrendous idea. It no longer would make the punishment fit the crime. It would make the punishment fit the income. Only the left could think of a scheme like this.They must site round a table allday thinking of ways to hit people.

    And no, I don;t wear a seat belt in the suburbs because I don’t think it’s necessary to do so when there ae air bags galore in the car. I wear them in the sticks.

    Haven’t got fined yet.

    People should take care of themselves and not expect the state to so so.

    There was one thing that really made people think about speeding when I lived in the US. A speeding offense over 25 MPH resulted in car insurance going up to the highest category of risk. In other words you really got hit for 3 years. After the first fine I made sure I always kept the speed below 24 miles over the limit.


    November 2, 2006 at 9:39 pm

  16. “contemplation of such fiery deaths is inherently irrational, because nobody likes to think of that”

    Christ, that is a parody of an argument if I’ve seen one. I’m pretty sure this is not what you actually believe, Liam, because if it is I’m nominating you for a Darwin Award when you go …

    Jason Soon

    November 2, 2006 at 9:46 pm

  17. I don’t think it’s a good idea either, JC, but I do accept the police prosecutor’s argument about public perception of the police force (already bad in Qld for obvious historical reasons). I floated it in the original post (apologies for the length, people, but this issue is not as simple as it looks) to get some sort of idea of where people sit.

    Frankly, I don’t think anyone has sat down and worked out (a) what reasonable speed limits are on given roads and (b) where speed traps (of whatever sort) should be placed to achieve the best safety outcomes.

    There is clearly revenue-raising going on, and citizens are right to be irritated by it.


    November 2, 2006 at 9:50 pm

  18. I don’t agree, skepticlawyer.
    If there is revenue-raising going on (an assertion I contest) then citizens can shove it right up the State by simply knocking off speed while driving, and into the bargain save money on fuel and engine wear.
    Fight the power!


    November 2, 2006 at 9:54 pm

  19. What are you more interested in, Liam, making money, or saving lives?


    November 2, 2006 at 9:56 pm

  20. Laime
    You have taken those stupid pills again.

    Lot’s of modern cars have in fact gone past set belts in terms of technology. Some have 8 air bags, which in built up areas make seat belts redundant.

    “Too bad, you can all cope with clicking a belt clip into its buckle.”

    No that’s bullshit. I refuse to ride a bike and having to wear a stupid looking helmet. If I get caught I’ll pay the fine if forced. There’s more to life than worrying about wearing that shit to make some dickhead in traffic control idiot happy the road toll is down by two that year because they imposed more draconian laws.

    If I owned a motorbike I would also refuse to wear a helmet. I rode a motor bike a few times in the US and it was great not having to wear a helmet. It a great feeling, it was my risk, so don’t interfere in my life.

    Before someone brings out the “we have to pay for you mistakes through medical costs ” routine. Don’t even try that shit. Privatize medical care and let insurance companies take the risk of me not wanting to wear belts and helmets.

    It’s truly getting crazy with these friggin lefties imposing road rules these days. They actually have the nerve to lower speeds down to 50 k and even 40 k in certain areas. Meanwhile car technology has improved by leaps and bounds over the last 30 years. Imagine, technology has zoomed while nanny state dickweeds have lowered the speed limits. Screw them.

    If Liame and his type had there way we’d be walking everywhere. Can anyone imagine we’d have cars if they had come out now?


    November 2, 2006 at 9:58 pm

  21. Saving lives and injuries, both of drivers and non-drivers, thank you very much skepticlawyer—nothing I’ve argued here has been anything to the contrary.

    Lot’s of modern cars have in fact gone past set belts in terms of technology

    That’s simply not true. Airbags complement seatbelts, and if they’re used improperly can increase the chance of serious injury.
    JC, by all means, you should drive without a seatbelt, ride a bicycle or motorbike without a helmet if you feel it’s your right. I’ll gladly pay my taxes to pay for your medical care when you’re critically injured.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:06 pm

  22. Laime says:

    “I don’t agree, skepticlawyer.”

    Of course he wouldn’t, because he’s aleftist twat.

    “If there is revenue-raising going on (an assertion I contest)”

    Contest what you like, you ignorant idiot, but it is going on by these leftist state government creeps we have voted in who in turn use the money to fund their own constituencies. They’re leftist taxeaters. They don’t give a flying shit whether you’re alive or dead

    “then citizens can shove it right up the State by simply knocking off speed while driving,”

    They hit you for 3 k over , dickweed. That’s not speeding. That’s stealing, something you wouldn’t appreciate because you’re a leftist twat.

    ” and into the bargain save money on fuel and engine wear.”

    Thanks for the info, Mr Fi formula 1 driver.
    Cars get wrecked at low speeds, idiot.

    “Fight the power”!

    Exactly. Fight leftist nanny state pricks you vote for, shit for brains.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:07 pm

  23. They hit you for 3 k over

    No, they hit you. I’ve never been fined for speeding. Unlike some, I know how to read a speedometer.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:10 pm

  24. While I agree with you JC, and think that Liam is missing my point (ie putting radar traps in blackspots rather than on main highways, if we are to have them at all, kills two birds with one stone), I would prefer you to leave the abuse for when you next hit the wrong nail with a hammer.

    Just sayin.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:11 pm

  25. Eeek, what’s happened to the recent comments?


    November 2, 2006 at 10:12 pm

  26. Laime

    I wouldn’t where a belt of a helmet simply because I refuse to be told what to do by a dick for brains labor politician and his appointed taxeating public “servant”.

    They’re not trying to protect me or anyone else. alkl they’re trying to do is walk into to next election with a lower raod toll statistic hoping that will get them more votes bcasue it makes them look as though they have done soemthing right.

    meanwhile more of my freedoms go down the toilet because labor shit head thinks he can remain in power by reducing my freedoms. Fuck em. If I am going to be a road statistic, i may as well be a useful one and help these leftist dicks get of office.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:13 pm

  27. “No, they hit you. I’ve never been fined for speeding. Unlike some, I know how to read a speedometer.”

    Of course. You must of one of those dicks that always hogs the right lane ….at just below the limit.
    I swear if I ever see a beret, tuttle necked dope in a toy car, I’ll run you off the road Laime. i swear I will.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:16 pm

  28. If you’re going to mindlessly abuse me, Joe, rather than respond to the argument, learn how to type and spell.

    Just sayin.

    Thanks, skepticlawyer. Just sayin’ indeed.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:17 pm

  29. Sorry SL

    The goody goody just gets under my skin.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:17 pm

  30. Laime

    You mean like Liame and in liam. That’s deliberate.

    Raod as in road. Fine. I guessed you couldn’t unscramble road from raod


    November 2, 2006 at 10:21 pm

  31. I swear if I ever see a beret, tuttle necked dope in a toy car, I’ll run you off the road Laime. i swear I will.

    Is that what’s called a death threat, Joe? Should responsible citizens be allowed to make them in your libertarian paradise too?


    November 2, 2006 at 10:21 pm

  32. Sooning approaching, people. I like to read Catallaxy at work and if there’s too much abuse then JAG blocks it.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:23 pm

  33. Laime

    That was one of the few things i said that was supposed to come out funny. Don’t worry, i’m not going to run you off the road. I have excellent road manners.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:24 pm

  34. No, actually, that’s not good enough. I think I’m entitled to a retraction.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:24 pm

  35. That’s up to JC, Liam. On my threads I’ll soon or delete if necessary, but I won’t apologise or issue retractions on behalf of third parties.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:27 pm

  36. Yuk
    Wear for where.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:28 pm

  37. Ok Laime
    I retract the comment. i’m not going run off the road a beret wearing turtle necked dope who’s deliberately keeping his speed below the limit to piss everyone else off.

    But why do you think i was talking about you? Surely you aren’t the only beret wearing, turtle necked dope in the entire universe? Or are you?

    Anyway you never ever mentioned wearing a tutle neck.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:32 pm

  38. Whatever, skepticlawyer. I certainly don’t expect you to apologise on someone else’s behalf.
    I do however expect to be able to comment under my own name without having death threats issued, even ‘funny’ ones.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:34 pm

  39. test comment


    November 2, 2006 at 10:35 pm

  40. another test comment


    November 2, 2006 at 10:35 pm

  41. Our comments crossed, Joe. Thank you.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:35 pm

  42. blahahahahahah


    November 2, 2006 at 10:38 pm

  43. Laime
    get off your toy horse. Stop it with this death threat crap, you big howling baby. I would never run you off the road if I saw it was you. I may throw my cig at your car, but I wouldn’t want run the risk of a jail sentence tyring to run you off the road( jsut kidding)

    So you do drive a toy car and wear a turtle neck then, right?


    November 2, 2006 at 10:39 pm

  44. Sorry
    This one crossed too.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:40 pm

  45. c8to, what’s happened with the ‘activity’ thingy on the front page? It’s gone screwy.


    November 2, 2006 at 10:45 pm

  46. JC says:

    “I swear if I ever see a beret, tuttle necked dope in a toy car, I’ll run you off the road Laime. i swear I will.”

    This is definitely Australia’s number one site for death threats.

    I would humbly suggest that the Peltzman Effect is either a pile of crap or negligible. Seat belts are not normally worn in many parts of the third world, like in Vietnam. This doesn’t stop people from driving like ferrets on speed.

    Call me old fashioned if you will, but I’d much prefer our paternalistic roads to the death traps I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing in the third world.

    Also, if we were to take Soon seriously, we would probably want to ban bus drivers from wearing seatbelts to protect their “third party” passengers.


    November 2, 2006 at 11:13 pm

  47. Here’s the resident green party racist (Steve Munn) proving once again that an IQ of 33 in the green party would make that person a comparative genius. Munn never lets the side down, if he can. He’s always there, hugging that tree (like dog taking a leak) for team green and gives a good belly full of laughs.

    Unable or unwilling to understand something said in humor he plays the pretend game of feigning horror. Good one Munn. Munn is always outraged or horrified. This time he’s comparing Australian roads and vehicles to Vietnam. If anyone has ever been there they would quickly realize that for a communist country where rules and regs are the norm, there is very little practiced on the road.

    I traveled there. There are very few multi lane highways and people are overtaking in truly dangerous situations. The number of motorbikes to cars is probably 50:1 unless your one of the lucky ones whose cultivated a high up member of the regime you don’t own a car there.

    So in sum, Vietnam is the sort of comparison only a green party member could come up with and think they have done a good job of it.

    Munn does us all a service: the little green monster is always a good choice for ridiculing or attacking when you’ve had a hard day. He’s green party punching bag. Don’t worry it doesn’t hurt him. Pain doesn’t register in someone only possessing a brain stem


    November 2, 2006 at 11:41 pm

  48. test


    November 2, 2006 at 11:47 pm

  49. I went to bed at around 11 (probably a bit before) so wasn’t moderating or sooning anyone.

    That was actually a cleverer insult, JC, although admittedly I know you’ve admired Steve in the past for other stuff.


    November 3, 2006 at 7:18 am

  50. Interesting issue. I’ve always thought adherence to the speed limit could be seen in authoritarian-libertarian terms.

    When I’m in Canberra I drive up the Monaro Highway to work. Most of it has a limit of 100k. Parts are 80k. Most people drive the 80k bits at 100k.

    Now: an authoritarian would say, ‘The govt has regulated the limit to 80k so we need speed cameras, police patrols and driver education to force people to drive at the regulated speed’.

    The libertarian would say: ‘The majority of drivers have decided that it’s safe to drive those 80k stretches of the highway at 100k, therefore, the speed limit should be raised accordingly.’

    I’d take the libertarian side of the argument.


    November 3, 2006 at 8:29 am

  51. The majority of drivers have decided that it’s safe to drive those 80k stretches of the highway at 100k, therefore, the speed limit should be raised accordingly

    Here’s the libertarian conceit again—that the Government is there only to arbitrarily stop people doing stuff they wanna. If the limit’s 80km/h, it’s 80km/h, and it’s probably because of the condition of the road and the prevailing traffic. As I said on the purple thread, if you want to challenge arbitrary rules, fine, just don’t do it in the overtaking lane.
    By the same token, also, before the introduction of drink driving laws and breathanalysis in the eighties, lots of people thought it was cool and safe and reasonable to get behind the wheel after four or five beers. Safety isn’t a function of majoritarianism.


    November 3, 2006 at 8:47 am

  52. Errata: I’ve lodged a cruelly and arbitrarily auto-moderated response to Rob. The libertarian argument would be, the majority of comments here are legitimate, and the spam threshhold should be loosened accordingly 🙂


    November 3, 2006 at 8:52 am

  53. Liam
    I don’t think you’ve been moderated. I think what has happened is that c8to has installed a new system which takes some time to process new comments.

    Jason Soon

    November 3, 2006 at 9:11 am

  54. “..that the Government is there only to arbitrarily stop people doing stuff they wanna.”

    Strikes me as quite true, comrade.

    I copped a hefty fine and three demerit points for travelling at 67k in a 60k zone on a three-lane highway. I was driving perfectly safely and the road conditions were not contraindicative. Others have been similarly done for going 2 or 3k over. It’s just revenue raising by the government and has little to do with road safety. Most drivers know what the safe speed is for the condition of the road and the nature of the traffic.

    Alzo, it may be purely folkloric, but I always understood that the 60k limit was originally set by govt in the confident expectation that people would drive 10 k over and that it was safe to do so.


    November 3, 2006 at 9:27 am

  55. Rob, if you know how to read a speedometer, and you can see the signs indicating the local speed limit, I don’t see how you can possibly have any complaint when you get fined.


    November 3, 2006 at 9:30 am

  56. Compulsory seatbelts are great, compulsory bicycle helmets are stupid, compulsory speed limits are inevitable – the only question is what limits, and what punishments.

    Ted Baillieu’s suggestion of leeway for speeders doesn’t change anything. It just puts the de facto speed limit 11km/h higher. People would just start complaining that they were ‘done’ for going just 2km/h over that de facto limit.

    The arguments against fines for speeding, or the size of the fines, leads me to ask – what should the punishment be? Community service? Licence penalties only?


    November 3, 2006 at 9:41 am

  57. skeptic lawyer, the disproportionate impact of traffic penalties, which you refer to, is a big issue.

    Loss of licence can be disastrous for young workers in the other suburbs, or mothers of young children. Yet for professional people along the train lines, it has relatively little impact. They work in the CBD so can catch trains to work and take taxis for other short trips.

    I think there needs to be some work done on this.

    Re income adjusted fines, an administratively simple way of doing this would be to make the fine proportional to the market value of the vehicle.

    Tony Healy

    November 3, 2006 at 10:03 am

  58. Liam, that’s spoken like a true authoritarian. FF has the rights of it. “the only question is what limits, and what punishments.” Now,in my case, i suffered a considerable financial loss and significant reduction of available merit points (a dodgy concept in itself). Yet what quantifiable social ill was I guilty of? None.

    Yet take another case. In the NT, there are no speed limits on the open roads (a situation soon to be “remedied” by government. Someone driving at 80k where everyone else is driving 140k is a danger to him or herself and everyone else on the road. They will appear to be stationary to cars approaching from behind and given the speeds, the other drivers’ response time is limited with a consequent escalation of the danger of a back-end collision. Yet such a person is not penalised, although they are driving recklessly and irresponsibly in not conforming to the prevailing traffic conditions.


    November 3, 2006 at 10:11 am

  59. Thanks for your input Tony. It was these economic issues that I wanted to flag, because I do think (and this impression has been emphasized since I’ve been lawyering) that there is a large justice issue that falls disproportionately on the poor.

    Now I’m approaching this from a libertarian perspective (who says we don’t have a heart) 🙂 Others may view it differently. Then there is the issue of lack of legal representation for what – on the scale of things – are pretty serious penalties. Now I’m perfectly aware that the law is often an ass. On something like this, though, it doesn’t need to be. We can do better.


    November 3, 2006 at 10:20 am

  60. “Re income adjusted fines, an administratively simple way of doing this would be to make the fine proportional to the market value of the vehicle.”

    So why not make murder raps income dependent as well? If you have assets, and get picked up for imintating son of Sam, you go scot free.

    Income adjiusted fines are another example of why leftists should never be allowed near the corridors of power.


    November 3, 2006 at 10:57 am

  61. IF you don’t have assets…. it should read.


    November 3, 2006 at 11:24 am

  62. I don’t support income-based fines, JC, but I do think Tony has raised some other worthwhile issues.


    November 3, 2006 at 11:30 am

  63. JC, taking away someone’s liberty by putting them in jail is the same for everyone, regardless of income.

    On the other hand, taking away $100 is different for a millionaire than for a single parent on minimum wage. One of them needs it in order to eat, the other to eat foie gras.

    Get it?


    November 3, 2006 at 12:17 pm

  64. JC, we do have a legal system, and one way to try to ensure it applies to everyone is through penalties. The implication which we turn a blind eye to is that a $140 fine is the same for everyone.

    Now, as we know, a marketing manager on $5,000 a week wouldn’t even notice $140, whereas a young apprentice might not be able to afford it at all.

    I would like an adjusted system where fines equivalent to something that’s currently $140 would become 1 percent of the market value of the car. Young apprentices in 2nd hand bombs might pay $50. The corporate lawyer in his Saab would pay $750.

    Tony Healy

    November 3, 2006 at 12:17 pm

  65. To clarify MY position further, it should obviously be capped. There is something inherently absurd about traffic fines over a few thousand dollars, even if the driver is a millionaire going 50km/h over the limit.

    Also, as I said at LP, I hate the bracket system. Just a linear 10% of daily income per km/h over the limit (for the first 10km/h), then some kind of curve upwards until you hit, say, 500% of daily income + instant 12-month suspension at 30km/h over.

    Cap the whole scheme at $5000, and anything over 30km/h excess speed involves increasing the criminal charges only.


    November 3, 2006 at 12:25 pm

  66. Ok great Tony

    So doing 160k down a strech of highway is less problematic if you’re earning 15k compared to someone earning 100K?

    That’s a truly pathetic way to figure penalities.

    The murder rap is a good example of why your suggestion is crap. Both are an offense against the law. If you’re going to use income then murder raps should also apply the same principle.

    No income, you do go to the slammer for killing your spouse.

    The Swedes tried this crap some years ago. They got rid of it.


    November 3, 2006 at 12:28 pm

  67. Income fines have the potential to bureaucratize the thing further, rather than dealing with the fundamental issue. Does speed kill? If so, at what point? I liked some of FDB’s points about the arbitrary nature of the whole thing (you made them over at LP – mind reprising them here?)

    And what do we do about the whole revenue raising issue, which does make police work more difficult?


    November 3, 2006 at 12:35 pm

  68. It’s not a good example JC. See #63 above.


    November 3, 2006 at 12:43 pm

  69. Or perhaps you’re arguing that a rich person’s liberty is worth more?



    November 3, 2006 at 12:44 pm

  70. Ok
    Lets work it out this way

    Warren Buffet has a salary of $100,000 a year ( last time I read ). Berkshire doesn’t pay dividends. Buffet sells stock when he has to pay for his expenses. So there are years he doesn’t pay much tax…… other $100,000 gross salary. He drives a beat up Lincoln Continental.

    Gerry Harvy drives a pickup.

    The CEO of ANZ this year is receiving a salary of $5,000 and the rest getting paid in options. He may own a regular ford.

    Set the fines for these guys Tony.

    All the stories other than the ANZ’s CEO car are true.


    November 3, 2006 at 12:47 pm

  71. Reprise from LP:

    Why don’t they publish the whole data set on speed and the consequent increase in accidents/fatalities?

    All we get is “x% of accidents involve driving over the speed limit. Therefore zero tolerance.” (well, 2km/h tolerance.) Pretty unsophisticated argument. At what point does excess speed SIGNIFICANTLY increase risk?

    I think a better analysis (which would of course eat lots of tax, sorry libertarians) would mean that speed limits would go up in some places, down in others, and would yield a much more curvy graph of excess speed vs. penalty than we have now. Irrespective of means testing.

    I’ve not been busted here in Vic for any more than 6 km/h over, but in WA I know that the fine for under 5km/h is small, then it’s constant from 5 to 15! WTF? Then again, constant from 15-25. Where’s the naunce?


    November 3, 2006 at 12:52 pm

  72. JC, your stories about CEOs are not very helpful. What about looking some reasonable examples? Why should a minimum wage factory worker pay half their weekly take-home pay for an offence which costs a suburban GP one restaurant meal for him and the missus? Oh, diddums, one night of fish fingers.

    Salary isn’t the best thing to look at anyway. My above calculations were just an example off the top of my head. Including assets would be better.

    Don’t think much of the ‘value of the car’ line. Seems like a disincentive to purchase high-quality (i.e. safer and less polluting) vehicles.


    November 3, 2006 at 12:58 pm

  73. FDB
    Bird is right. You’re and idiot.

    And I ever see you pull that stunt telling us how smart you are, I’ll call the cops and have you arrested for dishonesty.


    November 3, 2006 at 1:04 pm

  74. Jeez, Louise.

    I’d be worried if you thought I was smart, after your above attempts to equate fines with imprisonment.


    November 3, 2006 at 1:12 pm

  75. “Salary isn’t the best thing to look at anyway. My above calculations were just an example off the top of my head. Including assets would be better.”


    so let’s all revalue our assets each year to ensure we’re going to get fined correctly. A yearly balance sheet for 100 buck fine.

    Do i include the my company stock, Trusts, super? At what value? Historical cost or market value. How much do I pay the accountant to prepare a balance sheet.

    How about the guys who have all their net worth under their spouses name? What happens then?

    Good one genius.

    Bird’s right, you lefties go to sleep dreaming up stupid ways to steal off people.


    November 3, 2006 at 1:21 pm

  76. So JC, do you think it’s fair to fine a poor person the same as a rich person?

    It’s a simple question.


    November 3, 2006 at 1:31 pm

  77. Yes. Totally

    In the eyes of the law we’re all suppsed to be equal.

    Don’t like the size of the fine? Lower it.

    Don’t fine’s? Use points


    November 3, 2006 at 1:39 pm

  78. I have a problem with the fines full stop. As yet, we haven’t dealt with that fundamental issue.


    November 3, 2006 at 1:41 pm

  79. Here’s the LDP policy on traffic offences. What do people think?


    November 3, 2006 at 1:44 pm

  80. Okay, take away fines, but you’ll have to raise taxes to replace the revenue. Even a flat rate tax would see rich people paying more than an even share of that replaced revenue.

    Or do you also believe in a single lump sum taxation system? LOL

    Penalties are there for deterrence as well as punishment. A rich person is not deterred by a $100 fine*. So yeah, a demerit-only system is cool, but you will need to get the revenue from somewhere else. It pays for road maintenance, signage, driver education, vehicle testing, lots of important stuff.

    *Then again, I suppose if you like steel cages, strict daily routine and non-consensual botty sex then jail is no biggie either.


    November 3, 2006 at 1:50 pm

  81. from the LDP link:

    “Offenders should have the option of paying a fine without losing points, or losing points without a large fine.”

    Ah, so now a wealthy person need only reach in their pocket every time they’re caught, and NEVER suffer any lasting consequences. Meanwhile, a poor person can give up their licence or squander their kids’ university fund because they need to stay on the road for work.

    Really poorly thought out.


    November 3, 2006 at 1:54 pm

  82. Ummm, it’s an ‘option’, not an either/or. The criminal justice system is full of ‘fine option orders’.



    November 3, 2006 at 2:07 pm

  83. JC, I proposed basing the fine on the value of the vehicle rather than on income.

    That shortcuts all the accounting rigmarole.

    If the chairman of a bank wants to drive around in a $5,000 car to avoid large fines, he can. However I know he won’t.

    Market value of cars is simple to assess, using NRMA tables. No bureaucracy. And it provides a way of penalising drivers when they need to be penalised, without ruining the finances of young or struggling people.

    At the other end of the spectrum, it would make young hoons think twice before investing in fast hotted up cars.

    Damn fine idea.

    Tony Healy

    November 3, 2006 at 2:20 pm

  84. Seems like an either/or to me:

    “14. Penalties for breaching traffic laws should not include the double jeopardy of a large fine plus points leading to loss of licence. Offenders should have the option of paying a fine without losing points, or losing points without a large fine.”

    In any case, the first ‘option’ is clearly more available to the wealthy.


    November 3, 2006 at 2:22 pm

  85. The first sentence isn’t either/or. The second is – I’ll write to David & get the drafting right.



    November 3, 2006 at 2:57 pm

  86. Differential fines aren’t entirely ridiculous. The purpose of the fines is to deter future breaches, so if the fines are negligible, they serve no purpose. If the level of negligibility varies from person to person, why not the fine?

    PS I’m just thinking out loud here, I have no particular desire for income-dependent fines.


    November 3, 2006 at 3:01 pm

  87. FDB
    You’re an idiot. Don’t ever tell people you’re more intelligent than they are.

    Fines should never be a revenue raising venture. They are to stop bad behaviour.

    Stop it with this poor person crap. You’re all over the shop. A 100 buck fuine is not going to stop someone from going to uni.


    how would you value cars.
    Hotted up cars could have thousands spent on them.

    New Cars could be optioned up to the nines. Your silly policy would simply force people to drive older, less safe, polluting cars. It’s a friggen stupid idea.


    The SL Policy is a good one.


    November 3, 2006 at 3:14 pm

  88. Man, JC you’re all over the place.

    I’m an idiot, then you recycle my objection to the idea of indexing fines to the value of the car.

    Then you tell me fines are to “stop bad behaviour”. That’s what I said, too. Only pray tell me what you think of the fact that they act as much much less of a disincentive to wealthy people. Are you willing to address this, or just abuse my “stupidity”?

    Regardless of whether fines SHOULD be used to raise revenue, they plainly ARE. So how would you propose to replace that lost revenue should fines be abolished?

    Finally, you say “The SL Policy is a good one”. I’m not sure even SL thinks that the LDP policy is a good one any more. What of my objection that a rich person could, under said policy, easily afford to keep all their demerit points despite being repeatedly caught endangering lives by driving too fast?

    Granted I was being dramatic about the uni fund, but do you dispute that some people can more easily afford to pay fines?

    What’s more, their “policy” makes no distinction between types of traffic infringement. Presumably, we would be allowed to buy our way out of drink driving and running red lights, too.

    The policy is in serious need of considerable work to even be marginally defensible.

    If you choose not to respond to the substance of my comments again, I’ll stop arguing with you. Anyone else care to defend the LDP policy?

    SL? You linked to it, dude. You say:

    “The first sentence isn’t either/or.”

    Actually, that’s the part which most clearly indicates the either/or nature of it.

    “…should not include the double jeopardy of a large fine plus points”

    Surely this explicitly means one or the other.


    November 3, 2006 at 3:50 pm

  89. No, it just means you can’t cop both at once (a significant difference). The whole point of fine option orders is that many different things can be substituted in lieu – community service, probation, forfeiting the vehicle etc. Well designed ones also allow for conversion midway through, if a person finds they can’t complete the community service, say.


    November 3, 2006 at 4:00 pm

  90. Explain the “significant difference” between “you can’t cop both at once” and “either one or the other”. Like Joe says, I’m stupid.

    In any case, stop being evasive. What do you think about a rich person being able to completely avoid demerits and forfeit a couple of nights on the single malt, while a poor person has to either take a significant cut in their standard of living, do community service or lose their licence?

    What do you think of making no distinction between speeding and drink driving?


    November 3, 2006 at 4:07 pm

  91. I’m not sure about the distinction between drink-driving and speeding, because I don’t know enough to comment yet, but when it comes to speeding, I’m leaning towards the ‘no fines’ position. The police have better things to do with their time, and so does the justice system (and oh boy do I see this every day).

    With respect to fine options, a negative in the law is exactly that – you can’t be slugged with both. It doesn’t imply a choice between two (equally bad) options. You either have a mix of options, or no options. You aren’t forced to take ‘Hobson’s Choice’.


    November 3, 2006 at 5:25 pm

  92. you might want proportional fines as efficient deterrance if you go the fine only route…

    but that opens up a whole raft of other problems…

    you want the optimal number of accidents, and compensation from those that drive more dangerously, which is a hard thing to get…

    certainly the current laws are stupid…i lost my license partly for not wearing a seatbelt, so instead am riding a pushbike around sydneys streets which is far more dangerous than driving…


    November 3, 2006 at 6:07 pm

  93. I suspect we really are going to have to sit down and work out whether the road toll has dropped in recent years because of safer cars, drink driving laws, speed limits, more policing, all of the above, or none of the above, and if the former, in what proportions. My initial assessment of this whole issue still holds: more heat than light.


    November 3, 2006 at 6:25 pm

  94. FDB
    If you’re going to means test the law why stop at MV offenses, why not just go the whole hog and means test every law that carries fines etc.

    When you’re doing that you may want to define what equal before the law actually means. And don’t even try to hijack that definition.

    As of today i am now officially a very poor man as I have passed all out assets to my wife. I guess I am going to means test pretty well.

    The law cannot ever be exacting. That is not the intention of the law. The law can only reach to the a remotely efficient optimum otehrwise it becomes unworkable.


    November 3, 2006 at 6:37 pm

  95. SL

    I regularly appear as Duty Lawyer in the court you’ve written about in this post and feel the need to respond to some of the concerns you have raised about what you observed earlier this year. It seems to me that those concerns could be divided into three general categories – levels of representation in the lower courts, the loss of licences through court ordered disqualifications and what you refer to as the ‘revenue -raising regime’ of traffic fines.

    While it appears to me that the majority of comments have focussed on the latter issue, I wish to comment on the first two. At the outset I should say that I do not speak on behalf of Legal Aid Queensland, but am employed by that organisation.

    First of all, as you might imagine, Legal Aid does not have access to a bottomless well of funding and attempts to juggle the demands on our diverse services, which range from the provision of duty lawyers in Magistrates Courts all over Queensland, legal advice clinics for members of the public and inmates of all of our correctional centres, representation in the criminal courts and Family Court, Anti-Discrimination casework, Child Protection matters, applications for Criminal Compensation, support for indigenous women who are the victims of domestic violence and finally, criminal appellate work. I’m sure I’ve left out an important area but I’m beginning to rant so I’ll stop.

    The duty lawyer system is coordinated by Legal Aid but in most courts outside of the Brisbane CBD, relies on the cooperation of private law firms who may provide part or all of the service. The remuneration for this work is relatively low but the role provides those same law firms with broader access to criminal law clients than they might otherwise gain through advertising or the like. I’m not fully aware of the rationale behind the restrictions on the duty lawyer role, but it is restricted to representation of persons charged with a criminal or serious simple offence. The obvious point here is that these offences may be recorded on a criminal history rather than a traffic history, which in this Blue card era we’re living in, can have significant consequences on people’s livelihood.

    In addition to this, more often than not, traffic offences involve factually simple scenarios and mandatory penalties. Those penalties are imposed by the legislature, and merely administrated by Magistrates. I wouldn’t recommend the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act to anyone who doesn’t NEED to read it, but it contains a number of offences which attract mandatory disqualification periods, and sets the boundaries for monetary penalties.

    A number of those people who were unrepresented on traffic offences that morning may very well have received legal advice at one of our free advice clinics – in fact some of them probably know the jurisdiction better than I do, an amusing reality as a first year out lawyer dealing with long-time attendees of the Magistrates Courts. The other point I need to make on that issue is that a considerable percentage of criminal charges that come before that Court are not dealt and in some cases cannot be dealt with at first-instance – you may have noticed the duty lawyer adjourning matters in order for the individual to seek legal advice.

    If you had stayed for the summary trial listed that same morning you would have seen the lengths to which our organisation goes in defending the rights of those accused with even the most minor of criminal offences, and in maintaining our role of testing and questioning the appropriateness of the actions of our Police Service.

    Now that I have firmly moulded myself to my soapbox I am going to peel myself off and go home.


    Laura Reece

    November 3, 2006 at 6:47 pm

  96. Hi Laura,

    I wasn’t criticizing Legal Aid. You can’t do what you’re not paid to do, or what you’re legislatively prohibited from doing. I think I made that perfectly clear.

    Catallaxy is a political blog. One of the things we try to do is come up with solutions to political problems. We also don’t take cheap shots (something you’d notice if you looked around our site).

    One of the things my post queried is the mandatory nature of the penalties, which give people – Legal Aid, Police and Magistrates no room to move. The political party of which I’m a member, the Liberal Democratic Party wants to come up with alternatives to the sort of punitive regime that sees Legal Aid’s resources stretched and/or wasted. Basically, I’m opposed to much traffic legislation as it currently exists (and yes, I’ve read the act you mention), and I want to see it either removed or replaced.

    However, no-one can seriously propose solutions without thrashing out all the relevant issues and options. That’s what we do here. We’re not after anyone’s hide – or at least, not much 😉

    Come back again soon, mate.


    November 3, 2006 at 10:30 pm

  97. As usual I have the last word for the day, and I shall say that the issues of helmets and seat belts is radically different from the speed limits.

    As someone who is flirting with libertarian ideas, I find it wrong for government to impose paternalistic solutions, like compulsory helmets and belts. At the same time I always wear these things, even when I am in a place where they are not compulsory or the corresponding law is not enforced. I where them for my own safety, not because of obedience. If as Munn says, people are stupid enough in some countries not to wear a seat belt, then it’s their problem. I can’t see why we need to tell them what to do. I just got from Russia where I instinctively try to wear a seatbelt only to hear from the driver (my cousin): don’t worry, they no longer check… I find this incredibly stupid.

    Speed limits are a different matter and here I am with Liam. These are necessary to protect other road users including our kids, and we need these limits, and we also need deterrants. Now revenue raising is not a pleasant thing, but if you don’t like it, just drive under the speed limit, stupid. They will return empty handed.

    Demerit points are good because fines do not work as a deterrent for rich people.


    November 4, 2006 at 3:15 am

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