During a time when electricity and gas prices are breaking records and there is talk of universal food and services price hikes, the Riigikogu has passed an amendment to almost double speed camera fines.
Fines for speeding hiked from March
Experts say that the recent fine rate from 2009 has become outdated. The average salary has climbed from €800 to €1,500 over the last dozen years, which is why hiking the basic warning fine unit from €3 to €5 from March is not considered excessive. The maximum fine that can be imposed by an automatic traffic monitoring system will be hiked from €190 to €300.
Winter cold and energy price shocks will hopefully have subsided by the time the new rates enter into force, while the amendment still comes at an unpleasant time.
The latter is pure coincidence as the change has been in the pipeline for some time. The fact that speed limit violations recorded by speed cameras have become increasingly common is worrying the police. If in 2020, speed camera fines totaled €4 million, the tally was up to €5.5 million by early December this year.
Relative importance of mobile speed traps on the rise
Stationary speed cameras registered a little under 93,000 speeding violations in 2020, while 71,000 had been registered by December 1 this year. The average speed camera fine is €20-138 today based on by how much the speed limit was exceeded. While regular commuters know the locations of stationary cameras in their sleep by now, mobile speed traps are described as being worryingly effective.
“The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) has a total of eight mobile speed cameras, two at the disposal of every prefecture, and they are used increasingly often in our work,” PPA senior law enforcement officer Sirle Loigo said. “Mobile cameras recorded a little under 110,000 speeding violations in 2020, while the tally for 2021 was somewhat short of 200,000 by late November. One reason is the element of surprise.” The police usually set up mobile speed cameras in places that see a lot of traffic, accidents or where speeding is especially dangerous.
“Unfortunately, speed trap and patrol statistics suggest speeding is a social norm and still the most common traffic violation in Estonia. Drivers would do well to realize that speeding is one of the chief causes of serious traffic accidents,” Loigo said. “The little time gained by speeding in no way justifies serious or irreversible consequences it might result in.”
Indrek Link, adviser for the law enforcement and criminal policy department of the Ministry of Justice, said that the idea of a fine is to affect behavior. “Comparing people’s income to fines, the latter no longer have the effect they did in 2009.”
Two types of fines
Link said that people often do not know about there being two types of fines. The first is a cautioning fine that is issued based on speed camera readings. The second is a so-called fine for effect that concerns traffic violations where the person does not exceed the speed limit by more than 20 kilometers per hour. “The current basic fine unit for both infractions is €3 and neither leave a mark on the person’s record. Therefore, the main sanction is the fine amount,” Link said, adding that there are no signs of improvement in recent statistics.
The ministry official emphasized that speed is the main cause of traffic accidents. “Hitting a tree at 10 kilometers per hour is unlikely to have serious consequences, while hitting one at 90 kph will probably be fatal. Our goal is to improve traffic safety, not collect money,” Link said.
Half of all drivers speed
The Estonian Transport Authority measured the speed of all vehicles in a 90 kph zone in 2017-2020. A total of 303 million vehicles passed through the measurement zone. The result tells us that 56.4 percent of drivers observed the speed limit.
“That is where we would like to see change. While we might think that a difference of 10 kph hardly matters, a pedestrian’s chances of survival are 40 percent when the vehicle is moving at 50 kph and 30 percent when it’s 60 kph,” Link said.
Every decision to hike fine amounts is met with criticism of the state looking to cash in. “Additional revenue from the fine hike is €2.4 million. What is that to the state budget? Fines issued by the police make up just 0.13 percent of the Estonian state budget, with cautionary and effect fines counting for even less. The Estonian state budget exceeds €10 billion, with these sums mere drops in the ocean. Our main concern is for people to observe traffic rules,” Link said.