A $130,000 fine: An international operant conditioning example and discussion

1 0 1,792

In Finland, Andres Wiklöf was clocked by the police traveling approximately 82 kph (50 mph) in a 50 kph (31 mph) zone. He was fined €121,000 (USD $129,544) (Ogao, 2023).

One reason that an intended punishment is not actually punishing is that we may be willing to pay the price.

I had a friend tell me that when she was teenager, she would leave her house and spend the day in the mountains. She knew that when she got home, she’d be beaten so badly with a switch that the backs of her legs would bleed. For her, being at home was much more punishing than being gone. She was willing to pay the price. The beatings did not reduce her behavior of leaving the house for the day.

Let’s consider speeding tickets. Let’s say I receive a speeding ticket of $100, including fine and administrative fees. Let’s also imagine a fantasy world where I make $500,000/year. I may be willing to pay $100 in exchange for getting to my destination faster. This may be especially true if I don’t get caught every time. But even if I did, that $100 doesn’t mean much to me. It would just become the price of my commute.

However, if I make $10,000/year, having to fork over $100 hurts a lot. In fact, I may not be able to buy food this week or next.

The $100 penalty sounds fair on the surface—the same penalty for everyone, but what it means to each person differs significantly.

Most states—but not all, e.g. Mississippi, Minnesota, Washington—also implement a points system where each traffic violation results in points (FindLaw.com, 2016). Accumulate enough points and your insurance premiums may increase (again, no big deal for wealthy drivers) or your license may be suspended. A suspended license does not mean that you cannot drive. It just means additional penalties if you are caught driving with a license suspended.

Several European countries take a very different approach to fines. Instead of a fixed euro amount, they implement day-fines, sometimes called unit-fines. Finland was the earliest adopter of this system in 1921, followed by Sweden and Denmark in the 1930s (Kantorowicz-Reznichenko, 2015).

In the day-fine system, a judge uses the severity of the offense to determine how may “days” a person will be fined. This number of days assigned to each offense is often pre-determined by law. Next, the courts determine what a person’s “day” is worth. What is used in the calculation also varies by country, but may include annual income and assets and, perhaps, a deduction of some amount for, say, number of dependents. And then a fraction of a day’s worth—again determined by law, such as a half, is used to determine an individual’s day-fine (Kantorowicz-Reznichenko, 2015).

That brings us back to Andres Wiklöf who paid a 20 mph over the limit speeding ticket of USD $129,544. As you might now guess, Wiklöf is a multimillionaire. Is this fine actually a punishment? Will it decrease his speeding behavior? Maybe. In 2013, he received a speeding ticket that resulted in a €95,000 fine, and five years later in 2018, he received another ticket with a €63,000 fine. And here we are another five years later. One ticket every five years? I’d say the fines have been punishing (Ogao, 2023).

Ask your students how much a speeding ticket would need to be for them to never drive more than 10 mph over the speed limit. (If they do not drive, ask them to either imagine that they did or ask them to ask a friend or relative this question. If this is an in-class discussion, ask them to text someone now.) Record the results where students can see.

Next, ask your students if they think their state or province should move to day-fines. Why or why not?

Lastly, ask your students if there are other areas where penalties should be determined by the impact on each individual person. For example, should instructors have different late penalties based on a student’s current grade with higher grades resulting in higher late penalties? Why or why not? (A student with a higher grade in the course has less motivation to submit work on time because they can afford to lose 10%, 20%, or more points on one assignment. They can effectively buy more time to complete a late-in-the-course assignment than someone with a lower overall course grade.) I have no idea what students may say to this, but at least some may say that if their grades are that high, then they’ve earned the privilege. If so, follow up by asking if the wealthy have earned the right to speed and therefore should only pay $100 fines like the rest of us.



FindLaw.com. (2016, June 20). Driver’s license points by state. Findlaw. https://www.findlaw.com/traffic/traffic-tickets/state-specific-points-systems.html

Kantorowicz-Reznichenko, E. (2015). Day-fines: Should the rich pay more? Review of Law & Economics, 11(3). https://doi.org/10.1515/rle-2014-0045

Ogao, E. (2023, June 6). Finnish businessman handed €121,000 speeding ticket. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/ABCNews/finnish-businessman-handed-121000-speeding-ticket/story?id=99861907



About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.