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How we react to paying speeding fines

It would be hard to find somebody who actually likes paying traffic fines. In 2014-15, the NSW Office of State Revenue sent out more than 476,000 speeding fines. Unfortunately, many people in NSW don’t pay them on time:

  • Nearly 40% of these fines were not paid before they were due
  • Nearly 22% were not paid before the reminder was due.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) released research about willingness to pay fines. It surveyed 3,158 people and found 70% had been fined for a parking or traffic offence. Respondents had to imagine they were fined for speeding, by speed camera or police officer, while on their way to an appointment. They would receive one of three fines and have to pay within 21 days.

BOCSAR found the higher the fine imposed, the less willing people were to pay the fine. This might seem obvious. But it went against the theory that people pay a fine to avoid the worse circumstances of not paying it.

Willing to pay fine

Asked if they were likely or almost certain to pay the fine:

  • 80% receiving the $254 fine said they would
  • 69% with a $436 fine said they would
  • Only 31% with a $2,252 fine said they would.

Researchers thought the method of detection would make a difference to their willingness to pay. After all, it is more confronting to be stopped by a police officer, more immediate than a mailed penalty notice, and more human than an automated camera.

In fact, the method of detection made little difference to their willingness to pay. Unsurprisingly, people who were unemployed were less willing to pay (and statistics show they are more likely to default on) fines.

Not willing to pay fine

Those who had considered not paying fines previously in their lives had similar characteristics. They were more likely to be male, under 40, knew someone who had got away with it, had more speeding offences, and were fined recently.

Willingness to pay was also affected by lower socio-economic position:

  • Disadvantaged and very disadvantaged people were much less willing to pay $436 than $254
  • Advantaged and very advantaged people were no less willing to pay $436 than $254.

BOSCAR researchers concluded it may be worthwhile looking at charging fines according to people’s ability to pay, as the courts do, rather than wasting public money to chase up payments. See our blog about the Finnish system of basing traffic fines on income.

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