By David Rice, Guest Author
Keeping within the speed limit is a legal requirement for all motorists, and when that law is transgressed there can be some unpleasant outcomes. For many of us, it could lead to a hefty fine and perhaps points against our licenses, while in some countries it could even lead to the confiscation of the vehicle itself.
The First Paper Ticket
The first paper speeding ticket is thought to have been awarded to a man in East Peckham in Kent way back in 1896. His crime was to drive his car at just eight miles per hour. While this figure seems almost laughable now, it’s worth remembering that he was in a two miles per hour zone at the time, so this Michael Schumacher wannabe was traveling at four times the relevant speed limit.
And it wasn’t just the ordinary folk that were punished in those early days, either. Records show that in 1910 the wife of Canada’s Prime Minister was also a transgressor. Lady Laurier had been caught driving over the ten miles per hour speed limit in Ottawa. Despite her lofty position in Canadian society, she was still issued with a speeding ticket.
More speed equals more speeding
In more recent times, the maximum achievable speed of cars has risen dramatically, of course. Even the ordinary family sedans are capable of traveling at well over 100 miles per hour, and with speed limits in the UK, for example, set at 70mph on motorways, it’s not all that surprising to know that some people have been penalized for going well over the standard speed limit.
Britain’s fastest road user was a motorcyclist. He was clocked doing 175mph on a Honda Fireblade, a high performance machine that was surely not designed for safe use on the UK’s roads. The rider was given a jail term and a two-year ban.
The worst offender in a car was recorded doing 172mph in a Porsche 911 Turbo in 2007. He too received a jail term and a lengthy ban, and he also lost his job in the process. He worked for a car leasing company, and unofficially borrowed the vehicle without permission. Apparently he decided to resign before the inevitable dismissal was allowed to take place, which was perhaps a good idea.
A Texas tornado hits town
But Britain’s worst speeding incidents pale into insignificance when you look at other countries around the world. It’s thought the fastest speed ever achieved by a punished driver is an eye-watering 242mph. The driver, who was in a 75mph zone in Texas, was taking part in the San Francisco-Miami Gumball 3000 Rally. His vehicle of choice was a Koenigsegg CC8S, a Swedish sports car that, until the introduction of the Bugatti Veyron, was the world’s fastest street-legal car.
The costs imposed by speeding tickets vary from country to country, and nations such as the UK and most of the USA usually impose fixed penalties. Therefore, a regular ticket would cost the same to any driver, making no provisions at all for the individual’s income or overall financial circumstances. A Premier League footballer would therefore usually pay the same fine as a shop assistant who commits a similar offense.
There are some nations, however, which punish offenders according to their wealth, and in those countries the consequences of speeding can be very expensive indeed. In Finland, for example, the authorities will look at the offender’s last known income before determining the size of the fine.
Paying the price in Scandinavia
In 2003, an driver from Helsinki, Jussi Salonoja, was caught doing 50mph in a 25mph limit, an offense that would have elicited a relatively standard punishment had he been a poorer individual. However, Mr Salonoja was a wealthy heir to a meat industry company, and no doubt feared the worst when he was hauled before the courts. The fine he received, a world record at the time, was 170,000 euros, which today is equal to around £150,000 or $240,000.
While the severity of the fine takes some believing, it should be kept in mind that Mr Salonoja’s income in 2002 was around the seven million euros mark, so he could easily afford to pay. In previous years, other flying Finns had received hefty fines, too.
Jaakko Rytsola, who had made his fortune on the Internet, was fined 80,000 euros in 2000, while two years later Anssi Vanjoki, an executive with mobile phone giant Nokia, received a fine of 116,000 euros. This was reduced by 95% on appeal, however. The message is still a clear one, though: if you’re Finnish and wealthy, be extra careful when you get behind the wheel.
Switzerland is another country which levies fines according to the income of the offender. Perhaps given the fact that it’s such a wealthy nation it’s not a surprise to know the authorities realize a paltry fine for a millionaire is unlikely to have any lasting effect, especially in view of the number of high performance sports cars that are on their roads.
In 2010, a Swedish citizen was clocked at speeds of around 180mph on the main road between Berne and Lausanne, and faced a fine of up to the potentially record-breaking sum of £650,000. The total was calculated by a complex formula relating to income, speed and previous driving record. The figure was based on a daily fine of £2,166 for a total of 300 days. The driver’s comments were not recorded, but the word ‘ouch’ may well have featured somewhere.
He had been driving a brand new Mercedes SLS AMG, which delivers a powerful 570 horsepower, and when caught by police it took him half a kilometer to stop. Ironically, the road he was driving on has a number of speed cameras, but the swift Swede was going too fast for the machines to accurately record him. His excuse — that he thought the speedometer may have been faulty — was unsurprisingly dismissed by the authorities. He may have got away with that one if he was doing 41mph, but not 186mph.
Even in countries which don’t factor in the personal wealth of the individual, speeding fines can be extremely heavy. In Canada, for example, where many of the main highways are often almost empty, the maximum fines can reach 25,000 Canadian dollars. Each state or province imposes their own punishments, so don’t get caught in Alberta. Even in Ontario the maximum levy can be 10,000 Canadian dollars.
When Lewis became a loser
Many countries impound the offender’s vehicle as well as impose fines, so the overall financial cost to a speed merchant can reach astronomical levels. One famous incident occurred in Australia in 2010, when British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton was arrested by Melbourne police after spinning the wheels of his car on a public road close to the local race circuit.
Hamilton’s Mercedes was impounded, but as it was a courtesy car he presumably wouldn’t have worried too much about that. He was extremely concerned about the effect of the incident on his public image, however, and was keen to play down the implications and to apologize profusely to the relevant authorities.
The owner of a Bugatti Veyron in the Netherlands was not so calm, however, when his 20-year-old son borrowed the car without his knowledge and was caught going at twice the speed limit. The relevant speed was enough to allow the authorities to confiscate the car permanently, instead of just keeping it for a set period of time.
It’s easy to imagine the owner’s anger, because he wasn’t even driving it at the time. There have only been a few hundred made, so to lose one because of the actions of someone else must have been infuriating. One can only imagine the conversation that took place over the dinner table that night. The lad is probably still grounded to this day.
From 2005 to 2010, the most Veyrons that were manufactured in any one year was 81, and the waiting list is known to be large. Therefore, if the owner doesn’t get his car back on appeal it may take decades before he gets another one. Given that the cost of the car is somewhere around 1.8 million euros, this could conceivably be the largest speeding fine ever imposed.
In Australia in 2010, Perth police confiscated a Lamborghini after it was driven too fast for their liking. However, it was actually being driven by the mechanic who had been servicing it. Unfortunately for the owner, it took a little time before it was returned to him. Let’s hope he wasn’t charged for the service.
In the same year, a diplomat from Guinea-Bissau incurred the wrath of Swiss traffic police when he drove his Ferrari at 85mph through a small village. Thanks to the rather complicated formula mentioned earlier, he received a whopping fine that was thought to be in the region of $290,000. Diplomatic immunity failed to prevent the imposition of the fine.
Cameras get it wrong sometimes
On a lighter note, an Italian motorcyclist received a shock when he was informed by police that he was clocked by a camera doing 383mph — way above the top speeds achieved by Formula One cars. The owner, who was later reprieved because of a fault in the camera, said if he had been prosecuted he would have considered a career as a race car driver.
Slow drivers get tickets too
It’s also worth remembering that motorists can be prosecuted for driving too slowly. In 2004, a retired teacher from Scotland was fined £200 for driving carelessly and without due consideration. Police reported that she slowed down to just 5mph every time she reached a bend, leaving an ever-growing line of angry motorists trailing behind her. She later explained that she usually didn’t drive in the dark, and that she’d been wearing new glasses.
And while the slow drivers are generally thought to be from the more elderly sections of the community, there are plenty of exceptions. An 18-year-old man in Australia was fined for going too slowly in 2008. He had only recently passed his driving test, and wanted to take extra care because he had borrowed his mother’s car.
David Rice is based in the UK and only ever drives within the speed limit, he works for UK based car leasing company, Nationwide Vehicle Contracts.