Are Traffic Tickets Fair?

IMG_1832x-286x300In Maine, your income makes no difference in how much your ticket will cost. The fine scale is predetermined and applies evenly to everyone, which seems reasonable. But is it really fair? That all depends on who you are and how much money you make. For some, a speeding ticket could be devastating and for others, it could be nothing more than a slight annoyance.

Lets say that you are driving on the interstate with a speed limit of 60MPH and you get a ticket for going 75MPH. The cost for this tickets will likely be around $200. According to, the median household income in Maine is around $55,000 a year. That means that this ticket would be 4.36% of your household income for the month. This would perhaps be a difficult hit, but at the end of the day, would not be the end of the world. It would probably be a good incentive to be more careful and to drive slower in the future. This is exactly the hope of the law makers who set the fee scale for the ticket.

But now lets say that the NFL commissioner gets the same $200 ticket while he is at vacation house in Maine. His income, according to USA Today, is around $40,000,000 a year. That would mean the same ticket would be 0.006% of his monthly income. That type of punishment would be the equivalent of the person making $55,000 a year getting a ticket for around 28 Cents. Is there really any incentive there to follow the speed limit? There are other penalties such as possible license suspension that come with enough points on your license. But if your income is high enough, paying a driver a full time salary would be a realistic option. That is obviously not an alternative for the average Mainer.

What if you are a Mainer who only makes about $10,000 a year? A $200 speeding ticket would be 24% of your monthly income. That could be a crippling hit and mean that you may need to cut the electricity bill for a few weeks in order to pay that fine.

Is that fair? No. But then the question is what system would be fair? If the tickets would be based on income somehow, the fine for the person making $40,000,000 a year would be incredibly high and understandably unfair. The problem may be that there is no great way to solve this problem.

Another issue with traffic tickets and often specifically speeding tickets is that the officer has discretion of when to enforce the rules. If you are going 1MPH over the speed limit, you are subject to being pulled over and getting a ticket. That realistically does not happen because almost everyone is going over the speed limit and the police simply can’t pull over everyone. Normally this means that the police will pull over the person going the fastest. But what if everyone is going 15MPH over the speed limit on the highway? Does the officer randomly pick someone to pull over? Does the officer pull no cars over? What about the car with out of state plates driven by a minority? Or how about the car that is old and beat down? Maybe the officer subconsciously pulls over those cars on suspicion of possible other crimes. We would like to hope this isn’t the case, but they have the discretion in that situation. Is this fair?

One way to avoid this problem is not to speed. Easy enough. But is this realistic? Next time you are driving on i95, try going the speed limit the whole time. Going that much slower than the flow of traffic can sometimes be more dangerous than going over the speed limit. This is especially true when every tractor trailer starts to pass you. Even if the road is empty, you can also be pulled over for going to slow. So you must find the perfect speed and never once go over or under that speed. Good luck.

The dilemma may be there is no way to fix these problems. The system in place is not fair. But it may be the most fair method that could be in place.


By: Attorney Vincent S. LoConte

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