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Severe Fines for Street Racing

According to newspaper reports, in April 2015, Yue Hui Wang, then 18, offered to drive his teenage friend home from Richmond in Mr. Wang’s new high-performance 2015 Mercedes C63 Coupe. Speed apparently being ‘of the essence’, Mr. Wang crossed one of the bridges into Vancouver reportedly at between 160 and 180 kmh.  Then they turned west onto Southwest Marine Drive, which, according to the statement of facts filed in court, is the last thing Mr. Wang’s friend remembers before waking up in the “totaled Mercedes, enmeshed in the trees in front of 2206 Marine Drive.”

Mr. Wang was rendered unconscious but soon released from the hospital, while his friend’s recovery required 17-days of hospitalization.  The ‘control module’ seized by the police for the vehicle’s airbag showed a speed of 253 kmh immediately prior to the crash.

In November 2016, Mr. Wang pleaded guilty to one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.  The sentencing proceedings included Crown submissions that for denunciation and deterrence purposes a 90-day jail term was appropriate.  The defense asked for a suspended sentence saying the crime was a ‘one-off’ by an otherwise law-abiding person.

Provincial Court Judge David St. Pierre noted that while this incident had not resulted in a fatality, Mr. Wang had shown a reckless disregard for the safety of others and that youth and inexperience should not earn an automatic pass.  But, he said, “the crime had taken up a ‘very small fraction’ of Wang’s life and …“He’s not a bad actor.  In the colloquial sense, he’s committed a bad act.”

Adding that a criminal conviction provided significant denunciation especially given the potential immigration consequences for Wang, a Chinese citizen with permanent residency status in Canada, on July 20, 2017 the judge imposed a suspended sentence with two years probation, including 200 hours of community service, and a three-year driving ban.

And with this result, so soon after last week’s headliner about the 22-year-old West Vancouver resident arrested for the fourth time for driving his white Ferrari on the Lions Gate Bridge at an excessive speed — 210 kmh this time —Vancouver, however fleetingly, on social media after all — captured international attention as a ‘speedster city’ with ineffectual punishment.

One topic raised by the question of appropriate punishment is the ‘sliding-scale’ or ‘day-fine’ approach to monetary penalties.  Generally said to have originated in Finland in 1921, the system as described in a March 2015 article in The Atlantic is ‘relatively simple’: based on income, the amount of spending money a Finn has for one day, is halved.  Then a multiplier is applied based on the severity of the crime, for example, 12 for exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph, 22 for over 25 mph to a maximum of 120.

But since there is no ceiling on the amount of the penalty, there are cases of fines for roughly $80,000 Cdn for driving 65 mph in a 50 mph zone.  The full text of The Atlantic article is online.  Of course, the deterrent effect of this system on young people without earned income of their own remains questionable.

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