I have rather a poor record for speeding over the years. I have been caught by cameras quite often, sometimes getting points on my licence and paying modest fines, and twice avoiding further points by attending speed-awareness courses to be educated in the dangers that speeding can cause. It has all sort of worked; I am now much more careful. But imagine if I was Finnish? According to a report I read recently in the New York Times, a Finnish businessman called Reima Kuisla was fined €54,024 (about £39,000) for driving at 64 mph in a 50 mph zone. This, Mr Kuisla pointed out, was enough to buy a brand-new Mercedes.
But this was not his first speeding fine. In 2013 he drove at 76 mph in a 50 mph zone and was fined even more — €63,448 (about £46,000). The reason he was asked to pay these astonishing sums (which were, however, reduced on appeal to rather fewer thousand euros) was that he was rich, and in Finland fines for more serious speeding infractions are calculated according to a person’s income, the size of which the police can establish in seconds by contacting the Finnish tax office on their mobile devices. Mr Kuisla, a property developer, earned 6,559,742 euros (about £4,730,000) in 2013.
This ruthless system doesn’t seem to make Finnish roads any safer. In 2013 there were 4.7 road deaths in Finland per 100,000 inhabitants as against 2.8 in Britain. But the principle of fining people for minor crimes in this way is an egalitarian measure that perhaps hasn’t yet occurred even to Len McCluskey. He might like to impose it on the next person he appoints as leader of the Labour party. If it had existed here earlier, it might have ensured that the much-convicted new Duke of Marlborough would have had to get rid of Blenheim Palace, which surely would have afforded Mr McCluskey much pleasure.
But as I learnt in my speed-awareness courses, speeding is not to be treated lightly. Even small increases in speed — from 30 to 35 mph, for example — greatly increase the chances of death in a collision. And also speeding cannot be good for hedgehogs, which we are now warned could become extinct in Britain within ten years if more is not done to protect them. There are various reasons for the hedgehog’s decline, but being squashed by cars is an increasingly significant one as Britain’s traffic continues to swell. Hedgehogs are also killed by foxes and badgers, and I agree with Prince Charles, who urged Tony Blair in one of his ‘black spider’ letters to get on with the culling of badgers.
The Times this week, in an editorial calling for action to protect the hedgehog, wisely recommended ‘a less sentimental approach’ to both badgers and foxes. But it will be difficult to achieve this when there are ‘national treasures’ like Joanna Lumley around to drool over the urban fox. She says that she feeds and cares for several ‘completely charming’ foxes that live in her back garden in London. London foxes, she says, ‘lived here before us’ and ‘if we don’t feed them, they get mange and die, and that’s not fair’. She even lets them come into her house so that they can delight in her husband playing the piano. ‘They’re not going to eat sheep here, they’re not going to eat chickens here, because there aren’t any.’
True enough, but they do sometimes attack babies; and, more to the point, they kill hedgehogs. Foxes may or may not have been in London before us — I wouldn’t know — but their numbers have vastly increased with the growth of the human population that discards so much of its food. Foxes, now far thicker on the ground in London than they are in the country, are in seventh heaven there. They find life much easier than in the country, where people shoot them and hunt them, and where they find it much harder to kill my chickens (though they manage it all the same) than to scavenge around people’s dustbins.
But hedgehogs have also migrated to London in large numbers and for similar reasons — more food, no badgers — but are still at the mercy of foxes. Could not Joanna Lumley spare a thought for them? They are ‘completely charming’ too — far more charming than foxes in my opinion — and may be just as fond of the piano. More importantly, they are threatened with extinction, which foxes unfortunately are not.
Oh, by the way. I forgot to say that Mr Kuisla does not hold the record for a Finnish speeding fine. This, it seems, belongs to a Nokia executive who, caught roaring through Helsinki on a motorbike in 2002, was fined more than £83,000, based on an annual income of £10.1 million.