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Victoria suspends speed cameras

Cashed up: Speed cameras will reap around $427 million in revenue for the Victorian Goverment this year.

Victoria Police suspends processing of speed camera infringement notices

General News logo14 Nov 2003

VICTORIA Police has taken the unprecedented step of freezing all fixed speed camera fines for up to six weeks, as public faith in Victoria’s covert speed detection regime reaches an all-time low.

Wednesday’s announcement by Victoria Police and the Victorian Government means the processing of infringements detected by the state’s 47 fixed speed cameras on the Western Ring Road, Monash Freeway and Citylink tollway will be suspended until the cameras are checked and verified.

Victoria Police says drivers allegedly caught speeding by cameras eventually found to be accurate will be issued with infringement notices. Police will also determine how long the cameras have been faulty before reviewing any paid fines, which may be reversed on a case-by-case basis.

However, the details of this verification process remain unclear and neither the police nor government will confirm the possibility of compensation for drivers who have lost licences and jobs as a result of the inaccurate camera readings, which in some cases have recorded errors of between 30 and 40km/h. It is believed up to 200,000 motorists may be affected.

The suspension does not affect mobile cameras or red light speed cameras at intersections across Melbourne because, according to the Government, they employ different technology.

The move came three days after Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said he had full confidence in his Government’s method of covert speed detection, which will reap around $427 million in revenue this financial year.

That's a revenue increase of $100 million on 2002-03, which in turn was a massive 225 per cent above 2002-01.

Back in 1999-00, when the first Bracks government came to power, speed camera revenue was $99.5 million.

Mr Bracks' move occurred hours after a third fixed speed camera – believed to be a second on the Western Ring Road – was officially labelled as defective by police.

Law Institute of Victoria president Bill O’Shea said this week that motorists who had already paid fixed speed camera fines should write to the police Traffic Camera Office to ask for the return of their money and demerit points.

"It is the least that the State Government can do, considering the vast amount of money that is raised from traffic camera fines," he said.

Deputy prime minister and federal transport minister John Anderson expressed concern on Melbourne radio station 3AW this week that Victorian motorists were being charged with "serious offences" due to the state’s "very low" speed camera tolerance levels, which were lowered to 3km/h from the previous 10 per cent – still the margin of error allowed in other states, as well as that allowable for vehicle speedometer error under Australian Design Rules.

"The auto manufacturers will tell you that there is a limit to how accurate they can make their speedometers," he told 3AW. "There has to be a bit of give and take." Victoria Police officially admitted to the state’s first faulty speed camera following the issuing of an infringement notice to the owner of a 1970s model Datsun 120Y – which was allegedly detected on the Western Ring Road at 158km/h – back in July.

It took 105 days – and a second incident in which a Volvo truck was alleged to have travelled at 174km/h uphill in the Burnley tunnel - for Victoria Police to announce fixed cameras would undergo accuracy testing. A third faulty camera, revealed on Wednesday, led to the suspension of infringement processing.

The suspension of Victorian speed camera operations came on the same day it was announced that all 30 of France’s first speed cameras have been attacked with bullets, paint and a sledge hammer. While no such incidents have occurred in Australia, at least one civilian speed camera operator has been attacked in Victoria and at least one Sydney speed camera has been vandalised.

On Tuesday leading UK car magazine Autocar issued a press release slamming speed cameras as a $320 million failure following research into the debate in association with the RAC Foundation.

Autocar discovered that while the number of speeding drivers caught by cameras has risen four-fold to more than one million since 1996, there has been a less than five per cent reduction in the number of road deaths in the UK.

"(Speed cameras) do not deter drivers from speeding, are remarkably unsuccessful at saving lives and may well cause accidents of their own," said editor Steve Sutcliffe.

"Their presence has meant the removal of police from our roads, so thousands of serious driving offences now go undetected." In the UK, one of the first countries to get speed cameras, by law:
  • Speed camera housings must be yellow
  • No camera should be obscured by bridges, signs, trees or bushes
  • Cameras must be visible from 60 metres away in 40mph (64.4km/h) or less areas and 100 metres for all other limits
  • Camera warning and speed limit reminders must be placed within 1km of fixed and mobile camera sites.

  • Signs must only be placed in areas where camera housings are placed or where mobile cameras are used
  • Mobile speed camera users must be highly visible by wearing fluorescent clothing and their vehicles marked with reflective strips.

  • Camera sites must be reviewed at least every six months to ensure that visibility and signing conditions are being met.

A recent survey found that 48 per cent of motorists would not report speed camera vandalism to authorities if they witnessed it in the UK, where drivers detected at 30mph (48.3km/h) over the speed limit are likely to face loss of licence. In Victoria, automatic loss of licence now occurs at 25km/h over the posted limit.

Records show Australia’s road toll was 1725 in 2002 – the highest figure since 1996, although road deaths have remained relatively static since 1992. The number of fatal crashes in Australia has fallen 42 per cent between 1980 and 2002, despite a 50 per cent increase in the number of cars on our roads – from around eight million in 1980 to about 12 million today.

Canadian research shows two-thirds of drivers killed in speed-related crashes had consumed drugs and/or alcohol, two-thirds of speed-related crashes occurred below the posted speed limit while travelling “too fast for the conditions”, and that over-the-limit speeding was a major factor in less than five per cent of fatalities.

Australian state governments reaped record revenue from speed cameras in 2002, a year in which a similar number of people died in accidental falls and almost 2500 committed suicide.

In terms of road deaths per registered vehicle, Australia rates eighth among the 27 nations of the OECD. It is one of the few not to enforce compulsory driver training.

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