Slow down on speed camera hysteria

Speed cameras save lives. AAP

The Auditor General’s review of speed cameras is a good effort in identifying the safety value of speed cameras in NSW.

This is not the first time the NSW speed cameras have been reviewed. As presented in the report, the RTA reviewed their data and found that at fixed speed camera locations total crashes and injuries reduced by 26% and fatalities by 67% in the three years after installation.

Indeed, the auditor general concluded that speed cameras change driver behaviour and have a positive safety impact. The Auditor General in effect has confirmed what the RTA has found and scientific community has known for the past decade from extensive research that speed cameras prevent road traffic collisions and injuries. Why is that so hard to accept by a vocal minority and the media?

The media sensationalism about this issue is confounding the real message from the Auditor’s report that speed cameras save lives and reduce serious injuries on NSW roads.

Headlines such as the Sydney Morning Herald – “Top Speed Cameras still make a fast buck” and – “Some speed cameras cash cows, audit to show” and the Daily Telegraph’s front page headline “Can’t Kick Speed Habit” and “Speedy end to cameras” and – “Addicted to Speed Cameras"– are all missing the point.

But worse is the continuing and unethical campaigns by the commercial television programs such as Today Tonight and A Current Affair, that have repeatedly aired misleading and unbalanced stories that focus on the revenue raising aspects without acknowledging the scientific facts that these cameras are saving many lives.

It is a feeding frenzy by the media – it is being portrayed as if there is a huge injustice being carried out against people that has now been corrected by the new NSW government. Are we missing something here or weren’t these people fined for breaking the law?

Doubters don’t have to take our word for it that cameras save lives and reduce injuries. They can read the Cochrane review into the effects of speed cameras on speeds and road trauma by Wilson and her colleagues.

This review assessed twenty eight studies from around the world that measured the effect of speed cameras on crashes. The review reported consistent positive reductions in speed and as a result crashes. For crashes resulting in death or serious injury reductions ranged from 17% to 58%, with most studies reporting this result in the 30% to 40% reduction range.

And if there are still any further suspicions, then doubters can also read the Pilkington and Kinra paper in the British Medical Journal that reviewed 92 studies on the effectiveness of speed cameras and concluded that "Research consistently shows the effectiveness of speed cameras in preventing road traffic collisions and injuries”.

The link between strong enforcement and reduction in fatalities and serious injuries is undeniable and scientifically proven. Even the Auditor’s report seems to demonstrate this. For example, consider the graph of speeding fines versus fatalities on page 39.

It is interesting to note that the fatalities between Aug 04 to Feb 07 flat-lined when fines were down. When fines then went up between Feb 07 to Oct 08 the fatalities dropped substantially. Also when the fines reduced in March 09 the fatalities started to spike back up again. It is not surprising there seems to be a relationship between the value of fines issued and number of fatalities.

The formula is simple. Speed limits are set in a way so that if an errant driver loses control in a crashworthy vehicle, people inside the vehicle (and any other road users outside that the vehicle hits) will be able to fully recover from any injuries that may result from the crash event.

Allow average speeds to increase as a result of insufficient enforcement and sure as night turns into day, deaths and serious injuries will rise.

As for the claim that any speed cameras are for revenue raising, the experience in NSW shows that they become less profitable over time. Exhibit 16 on page 22 of the Auditor’s report shows the total value of fines issued appears to reduce in successive months after the cameras are installed.

This suggests, as the Auditor General identified in his review, that the cameras are effective in changing behaviour and increasing road safety. So how can the media and vocal few claim with any credibility that the cameras are for revenue raising?

What they need to remember is there is one very simple way for drivers to avoid getting fined. Drivers can keep to the speed limit along with two thirds of NSW drivers who have not been fined for speeding.

Hard you say? Not really. Even if you find it difficult to notice speed limit signs, there are numerous GPS and intelligent speed systems and even a phone app now available that will warn you if you are exceeding the speed limit any time anywhere.

For a few dollars investment drivers can avoid being fined, assuming they are not intentionally exceeding the speed limit and breaking the law.