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Speed Cameras and You PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Colin Brassington (aka Brash)   
Tuesday, 12 January 2016 16:09

A mate of mine got busted speeding recently. The fine arrived in the post 18 days after he was detected travelling 63km/h in a 50 zone. But this isn’t what makes the story worth writing about. No, that was what he said next:

I don’t feel like this is a fine for behaving badly. I feel that this is merely additional taxation for using the road.

SpeedCameraSouthEasternFreeway
Image found on Google. Claim if yours

It is at this point that I must note that the driver in question has not disputed the validity of the fine – it is for a road he travels on, at a time he could conceivably have been travelling along it, and is a road he believed was a 60 zone. I know the road too, and I wasn’t aware that it was a 50 zone either if I’m completely honest.

Let’s break this down a level though – why was he fined? The obvious response is because he did something wrong, but think about it further: the fine is meant to be a deterrent. (And indeed for many it is – I don’t speed because I don’t want to get fined is a common opinion, even if it is one that completely gets lost in the road safety message.) But whatever the reason, somebody not exceeding the posted speed limit is what the regulating authorities want so let’s leave the argument of the speed limits themselves for another time. Even the government don’t say how the cameras improve road safety, they just do.

In addition to the $349 fine (plus $60 victims of crime levy), old mate also loses 3 demerit points. The points are also intended to be a deterrent, with the idea that you accumulate too many points in too short a timeframe and you will lose your licence. Simple enough in theory, but how about in practice? Not only that, how effective is a deterrent to an activity when it arrives nearly three weeks after said activity, and when the perpetrator didn’t realise he was in the wrong? (Yes, I understand that ignorance is no excuse)

During the calendar year of 2015, there were 102 recorded fatalities on South Australian roads. This was down from 2014’s 108, but higher than 2012 and 2013’s tallies of 94 and 97 respectively. Going further back, in 2004 there were 139 fatalities, 2006 saw 117 and 2008 saw 99 (which sparked the Motor Accident Commission’s ‘Under 90 in 09’ campaign). So the basic data shows that the trend is heading down, and that in general the number of people losing their lives on SA roads is reducing on a yearly basis. The number of fatal and casualty crashes are also generally trending downwards, and this is a good thing.

However when you look closer at the data, it’s an interesting picture. While the advertising campaigns are quick to point to young drivers as being over-represented in the road toll (particularly P-plate drivers), the data does not show that these drivers are most at risk. The statistics quite clearly state that the 30-39 and 40-49 age brackets consistently record more fatalities than their 16-19 and 20-24 year old counterparts. The data also shows some interesting trends with regard to the areas (broken up over local police service area) where the fatalities have happened.

But as Homer Simpson tells Kent Brockman, people can use statistics to prove anything, 40% of all people know that. And the speed camera advocates are quick to credit the increase in speed camera activity as the primary reason for the reductions in casualty crashes on our roads. And of course, the large increase in the number of cameras (both fixed and mobile) is not relevant to the conversation.

In July 2014, SA’s first ‘point to point’ cameras were switched on. My major opposition to these devices is that the activation at each end is a fixed camera no different from any other – so if you’re speeding when you enter the point to point zone, you will be issued with an expiation notice for that offence. If you exceed the maximum average speed for that zone you will be issued with a separate expiation notice for that offence, and same again if you were still above the speed limit when you leave the point to point zone. That is potentially three separate expiation notices, for the same offence, none of which will stop you from speeding while you’re doing it. Admittedly these areas are very well sign written, with large signs prior to the entry of the zone that this is an average speed camera zone so you should have no excuse, but I digress. Besides, the argument of if you don’t want to get speeding then don’t speed is a bullshit argument that completely misses the point of road safety.

On top of this, in November 2014 it was noticed that the new cameras installed on the South Eastern Freeway at the Crafers interchange and Mt Osmond overpass had generated more than three times the expected revenue in their first seven months of operation. The cameras, installed in response to a runaway truck that caused a fatal crash at the bottom of the freeway generated $5.84 million in speeding fines between December 2013 and June 2014; compared to the $3 million annual expectation. The fines were generated by the two cameras detecting 13,000 speeding motorists on that stretch of road.

Now this is where I get very angry and very ranty very quickly. For those who don’t know, the South Eastern Freeway is a pretty steep (6% grade) decent for over 10km. It’s a stretch of road that has been notorious for trucks overheating their braking systems since it was opened. There are three safety ramps (formerly called ‘arrester beds’) placed strategically to catch runaway trucks, and trucks and buses have always been required to select low gear before the descent. However the response to the number of tragic and fatal incidents along this stretch of road – particularly those involving trucks – has typically been to lower the speed limit on the down track from 100km/h to 80, and install a couple of speed cameras.

Another reason that is typically ignored when it comes to the downward fatality trend is the age of the vehicles being crashed. Statistics say that the average age of Australia’s vehicle fleet is 10.1 years, as of January 2015. This is barely changed between since 2010, but keep in mind that over that five year period, this means that the average date of manufacture moved from the year 2000 to 2005. Not to mention that passenger cars have been getting safer and safer with every passing year. There are 323 5-star rated cars available for sale as of writing (178 of these are current models), compared to 136 in 2010. So on the whole it would be silly to exclude the fact that people are crashing safer cars from the debate, but speed camera advocates have conveniently forgotten it.

When I go to visit my girlfriend, I take a back road. It takes me from my suburban Adelaide home up into the Adelaide Hills, across some picturesque landscape with rolling hills and wonderful winding roads, then drops me into the outer suburbs town that she calls home. This takes me approximately 25 minutes, depending on other traffic, but is always quicker than taking the main roads, where I would spend nearly that amount of time waiting at traffic lights. But I digress.

SpeedCameraLoganMotorway
Speed camera on the Logan Motorway in QLD. Image found on Google. Claim if yours

This is a nice winding route, and is speed limited at 80 and 100km/h depending on what section of road you’re on. Recently, one section was reduced from 100 to 80km/h. I presume that this was in response to a number of incidents on this road in the last 12 months. Having driven this road practically every day for the last 2 years, and having driven it regularly for over 10 years I can say with some authority that speed was not a factor in 2 of the major crashes; they both appear to have been caused by the driver not paying attention, and panicking when things got out of hand. One I presume to be a suicide (because I cannot fathom how you can hit a tree on a straight section in the dry) and one I cannot understand how it happened at all.

But my opinion on how these incidents happened aside, the response was to drop the speed limit. Not to build a solid shoulder adjacent the edge of the narrow 2-lane road. Not to construct barriers around the bends to keep errant vehicles out of the adjacent scrubland. Not to fix the road surface so that there was a uniform surface for tyres to grip. And the change in speed limit came after one particularly bad year for this stretch of road. Never mind the many thousands of drivers who use that road everyday successfully and safely and have done so for many years.

I have often said that the biggest problem with road safety in Australia is that the regulatory authorities see the addition of speed cameras as a magic fix-all solution. Engineering a solution (such as any of the three suggestions above) would be a much better idea and have a much better long term effect. Unfortunately engineering solutions cost money, and for a state government that is already struggling with poor management of their funds I cannot see this happening any time soon.

The other major problem is the low standard of driving skill of Australian drivers. For years now it seems that standards have been brought down so that the lowest skill drivers can pass the relevant tests, rather than to increase their skill level to make them a better driver. As I’ve said before it is quite difficult to get your licence to ride a motorcycle, with the prospective licence holder being required to demonstrate that they can actually handle a motorcycle before being let loose on the public. Yet anybody who can answer some simple questions, and clock the required number of hours with a fully licenced driver gets handed a drivers licence. I’ve said for many years that licenced drivers should be required to exhibit that they still hold the required skill level at regular intervals throughout their driving life. People are always quick to say that it would be too hard and cost too much, but rarely have a better suggestion.

Until recently my grandmother held a heavy vehicle drivers’ licence, which she has held since some time in the 1950s. Back then she sat a single written test (no drive test back then) and has never had any follow up instruction. International licences are often simply transferred without the need to demonstrate that you understand the Australian national road rules (that differ in each state and territory). Even the government themselves ask for Safer, Smarter Drivers but do little to encourage this.

I don’t know what can be done. I’ve spoken to my local MP and to be honest, they simply don’t care. As far as they are concerned, what are now called “safety cameras” are doing their job and making people safer on the roads. Logic, fact and all other argument be dammed.

 

And for the record, yes I know that this article was centred on South Australia. It made so much more sense for me to research it properly for my home state and the conditions that affect me on a daily basis, than to try and find equivalent numbers nationwide. If they matter so much to you, you can always find them yourself.

 

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