A thought on speed cameras

December 1, 2010

What role could speed cameras have played in the Victorian election outcome? Like many slow burning issues that have built up over the last four years, speed cameras have been the subject of unrelenting campaigns by the Herald Sun and the Liberal Party. Speed cameras have been portrayed as primarily a revenue raising tool rather than a safety tool.

Proponents of speed cameras have not been successful in defending them, especially since many speed cameras are hidden and secret, and subject to much criticism about their accuracy following technical problems.

Despite this, there is a lot of evidence around the world that speed cameras do save lives, as people are more likely to slow down. Speed is a major factor in many crashes.

In the UK, there are much clearer guidelines about the use of speed cameras than in Australia (there is also very strong criticism of speed cameras in the UK).

All UK speed cameras are painted bright yellow.

Location and operation of cameras

  • The majority (85%) of cameras must be in areas with a specified minimum level of death and injury within 1 km in the previous three years (4 collisions resulting in death/serious injury for fixed cameras, 2 for mobile).
  • Crashes need not have been speed-related but it must be shown that speeding is a problem at the location.
  • 15% of enforcement time can be used to respond to emerging problems, e.g. areas of local concern.
  • Sites that are more appropriate for engineering solutions (e.g chicanes or speed bumps) are excluded.

Visibility and conspicuousness

Cameras should be clearly visible to motorists, with yellow housings that are not obscured by trees or signs. Covert cameras may be used where it is considered to be in the interests of road safety.

The prosecution process

Once a speeding motorist has activated the detection equipment, a photograph is taken which allowsthe number plate and (in some cases) the driver of the vehicle to be identified. The number plate is used to identify the registered keeper of the vehicle.

I think there are definitely things that we in Victoria could take from the UK.

  1. Specifically and publicly locate speed cameras principally in areas where there has been death and injury from road crashes.
  2. Make all speed cameras clearly visible – secret or hidden speed cameras should be phased out or removed (they are the most vulnerable to the accusation of revenue raising). All speed cameras should be signposted and painted an obvious colour (like yellow).
  3. Investigate whether a process can be easily introduced where the driver of the vehicle must be photographically identified before a fine is issued.

Finally, motorists may feel better if they know where any money from speed cameras actually goes. Revenue could be quarantined and used for either road safety projects or improving Public Transport, rather than go into consolidated revenue.


Comments

  1. Iain Hall - December 1, 2010 at 10:21 am -

    You are right about one thing and that is the need to make speed cameras both visible and well signed. But I think that you are mistaken to suggest that they "save lives" because the majority of people who receive infringement notices are in fact not that much over the limit and they re not in fact driving in an unsafe manner at all.
    They are beloved by governments because of their potential to raise cash and I hate them because governments keep lying to the public that they are "all about road safety " when they set them up in way that maximise the revenue that they will raise rather than in a way that would actually modify the behaviour of motorists.

    • Alexander White - December 1, 2010 at 10:44 am -

      The papers I've read is that they slow people down, and that speed is a major cause of accidents and road fatalities, and if they don't cause crashes, they certainly make them more dangerous.

      My post isn't to debate whether or not they "work" insofar as saving lives, but about how to neutralise them as an issue politically.

  2. Iain Hall - December 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm -

    My post isn't to debate whether or not they "work" insofar as saving lives, but about how to neutralise them as an issue politically.

    But how can any issue be "neutralised politically" unless you address the nub of the problem?
    The nib of the problem is that the public are repeatedly told 'they are not about revenue raising they are about road safety" which is just dishonest especially when the experience in The UK where they have taken cameras out of service have shown that instead of road accidents increasing they have actually declined.
    Politically there has to be a point when all governments can't keep telling lies about this and when it becomes better to be honest and tell the public "yes we are using the cameras to raise money" and live with the consequences of being honest rather than the disingenuous platitudes that the public will just not buy any more.

    • Alexander White - December 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm -

      Iain – thanks for the comment.

      The research I've seen is that speed decreases when there is a prominent speed camera in the area. There are other solution to other causes of crashes (such as drugs, road conditions, etc), but I'm of the view that speed cameras are useful. I haven't seen the research you refer to.

      In my view, making the speed cameras prominent, clearly visible, and transparent about what the revenue raised is used for, addresses the "revenue raising" complaints in large part. Of course, people who don't like getting fines will never like it, but I think most people would prefer to see the cameras and know that they are in areas where there have been crashes where speed was a factor, and that the money raised will go to road safety.

      Cheers
      Alex

  3. Josh C - December 3, 2010 at 12:42 am -

    I think this system would encourage a 'speed as you like, just not where there's a camera' attitude. The strength of the system at the moment is that cameras could be anywhere, so you need to be thinking about your speed everywhere (you should anyway, but that is obviously not a universal mentality). The TAC knows that a small change in speed makes a big difference in many accidents, both as to whether they happen and the severity – thus the wipe off five campaign.

    Notably, at the last election, the Liberals campaigned on giving a 10% leeway – which is essentially raising all speed limits by 10% anyway – unforgivable bad policy making for a few headlines. I hope this doesn't rear it's ugly head again.

    People complain about speed cameras constantly, but it's the easiest tax to avoid. Want to not pay GST? Sorry. What to avoid income tax or stamp duty? No can do. Want to avoid a speeding fine? Just don't speed. And if you speed, and get a fine, don't whinge – you knew that might happen.

    • Alexander White - December 3, 2010 at 7:23 am -

      Which part of the system do you think would encourage a "speed as you like" attitude?

      Want to avoid a speeding fine? Just don't speed.

      Agreed. However, most speeding fines are given for going only slightly over the speed limit, which is why people get annoyed. "A fine for $120?! I only went 4km over the speed limit!"

      • Jason - December 9, 2010 at 10:47 am -

        I find the "I only went 4km over the speed limit" arguments fatuous and self-serving. So if you give people a 5km/h "comfort zone" all that happens is that people drive up to 5km/h over the speed limit.

        Speeding is speeding. Driving instructors are very clear when teaching us how to drive that we should aim at driving 5km/h BELOW the official speed limit for any area we are in. The fact that just about everyone ignores this as soon as they leave the driving instructors car is hardly the fault of the government. There is no point setting a law which you then immediately allow people t break 'so long as they only break it a little bit'.

        The point is that most of the public angst about speeding fines are led by by whichever political party that is in opposition at the time raising it as an issue because it is easy politics. The problem would be politically solved by all parties accepting that a law is a law, that breaking the law is breaking the law, and that making political hay out of it is detrimental to us all.

        I was guilty of always driving up to 10km/h over the speed limit for my whole life. I then got 3 speeding tickets in the space of 7 months about 2 years ago. I now drive at or below the speed limit. The low tolerance levels HAVE changed my driving habits, and although it's unscientific, I feel that overall traffic speeds on the roads really have reduced significantly in the last 10 years because of these laws.

        • Alexander White - December 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm -

          Hi Jason,

          Thanks for the comment. Some very valid points about setting a law that is then ok to be broken, and also about speed limits not being mandatory speeds. I tend to try to drive around 5 km under the limit to avoid those secret speed cameras.

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