It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Aug 11, 2010

Can you imagine a traffic fine of more than $17,000?

You hear it and figure it must be some kind of urban legend. A truck driver makes a wrong turn and ends up with a $17,000 ticket. Well, actually that is not one more urban legend, but a pretty much true story.

 Truck driver William Carroll got lost in the suburbs around Philadelphia and when he got pulled over the ticket was actually for $17,751.50. Philadelphia's NBC 10 looked into the story and found it to be totally legit, if not tragically sad.

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Carroll says he was just following the directions he had gotten from one of the companies he leased his trucks from. He missed a weight limit sign that was leaning and partially obscured, and before he knew it he was stuck trying to turn his big rig around in a residential neighborhood. The directions told him to get off at the Route 202 South Frazer exit. That dumped him onto Route 401. Carroll said he missed a cockeyed sign at the corner of 401 and Bear Road where he had to make a right turn. The next thing he knew, he was in a residential neighborhood -- Sydney Road to be exact -- where the police gave him a ticket. "But once you get in the there with a 53-footer, its impossible to get out," Carroll said.

At first Carroll thought it was a mistake, thinking maybe 17 hundred instead of 17 thousand dollars, but when the officer verified it, Carroll says he felt like he was hit by a Mack truck.

A PennDOT spokesman, Charlie Metzger, explained that the fines are so high because heavy trucks can do a lot of damage to certain bridges and roadways. So the fine breaks down thusly: "It's $150 for the fine, and then it's $150 for every 500 pounds over the 3,000-pound weight limit," Metzger said. He further rationalized the fine saying the money often needs to go right back into the road repairs.

According to Warrenville Com­mander Patrick Treacy, the driver did have a permit, but it did not cover the proper weight of his truck. The permit covered a two-block stretch of Diehl Rd. in Naperville, not Warrenville, and the permit covered the state but not DuPage County.

The trucking company owner, Bill Carl­son, admitted the errors. The driver was lost and was finding his way back to his in­tended route when stopped by the officer.
Later the police officer discovered he too had erred in determining the fine. The fine should have covered all weight over the permitted amount of 72,280 pounds, or 17,000 pounds. In that case, the fine would be $3,000 instead of the $17,000 widely re­ported by regional press outlets. The case is presently pending in traffic court.

But, it you think that the $17,000 is the biggest fine you can think of, you are still dead wrong. In Finland, Jussi Salonoja, the 27-year-old heir to a family-owned sausage empire, was given the Ј116,000 (170,000 Euros) ticket after being caught driving 80km/h in a 40km/h zone. Helsinki police came up with the figure after tax office data showed that Mr Salonoja earned close to Ј7m in 2002.

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The staggering sum was no mistake. In Finland, traffic fines generally are based on two factors: the severity of the offense and the driver's income. The concept has been embedded in Finnish law for decades: When it comes to crime, the wealthy should suffer as much as the poor. Indeed, sliding-scale financial penalties are also imposed for offenses ranging from shoplifting to securities-law violations. "This is a Nordic tradition," says Erkki Wuoma, special planning adviser at the Ministry of Interior. "We have progressive taxation and progressive punishments. So the more you earn, the more you pay."

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