Speed kills. Speed cameras save lives. We have heard it all before. But, two-hundred and forty-nine people people died in fatal traffic accidents on Victoria's roads last year — a 2.5 per cent increase from 2013's figure.
This is despite a record number of fixed and mobile speed cameras deployed on roads in Victoria and around Australia.
For years, the government has been claiming that speed cameras save lives and that speed is the greatest common factor in fatal car accidents.
But with road deaths on the rise, could it be that speed cameras actually don’t save lives and in fact are contributing to our road toll by breeding poor driving practises?
Since Saab introduced seat belts as standard in 1958, occupant safety has been improving every year, and the sedans, wagons, utes and SUVs we drive today are safer than ever. And safer cars will undoubtedly go further in reducing the road toll than speed cameras.
Speed cameras certainly have their place in society, but with the draconian enforcement of low-level speeding and covert tactics, such as hiding in bushes and unmarked mobile speed cameras (in Victoria, at least), more needs to be done.
The proof is in the numbers. People are still crashing, they are just safer doing so.
The TAC (Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission, which is responsible for paying benefits to people injured in road accidents) records the number of people injured in car accidents that require hospital stays of more than 14 days and hospital stays of fewer than 14 days.
The data set I interrogated was over an eight-year period from 2006 to 2013. The set of numbers included injuries involving a car or motorcycle and excluded pedestrian injuries. During this period, the number of registered vehicles in Victoria has increased by around 2.3% per year. The data shows that in 2006, 3535 people required hospital stays of fewer than 14 days in comparison to 2013, where 3558 people required hospital stays shorter than a fortnight. That’s an increase of less than 1 per cent.
Similarly, for the same period, in 2006 there were 629 people admitted to hospital for stays of more than 14 days, while in 2013 there were 632 people that required hospital stays of more than a fortnight, a similar increase of less than 1 per cent.
Now, compare those figures to fatalities over the same period. In 2006 there were 261 road fatalities in Victoria (excluding pedestrians), compared to 200 in 2013, a reduction of around 23 per cent.
This shows that while fatalities have decreased by a significant margin, we haven’t seen the same decrease in serious injuries requiring hospital stays, which cost Victorian road users $8.89 billion between 2003 and 2014 — mainly funded by vehicle registration fees. This supports the theory that while cars have become significantly safer, people are still making the wrong choices behind the wheel and driving poorly.
The other aspect of road policing that hasn’t seen a significant decrease is revenue from traffic fines. Prior to the 2011-2012 Victorian Budget, these figures were bundled into a general revenue from fines category. Public figures for revenue from speed cameras (fixed and mobile) are only available from 2010 onwards.
The figures show that revenue from speed cameras alone — on the spot police fines are not included in this figure — in 2010 was around $236 million. Fast forward to 2013 and that figures jumps a whopping $57 million to $293 million. Imagine ripping almost $300 million from government coffers; speed cameras have become like a drug addiction that governments can't help but feed off.
Included below is a graph (click here to see larger version) that shows the relationship between hospital stays shorter than 14 days, longer than 14 days, fatalities and revenue from speed cameras. The graph shows that the increase in revenue from speed cameras isn’t commensurate with a reduction in hospital stays. Hospital stays of fewer than 14 days and more than 14 days during this period trended steady.
When asked about speed cameras and levels of enforcement, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Regulation told CarAdvice:
“Broadly speaking the rate of people being fined by cameras is not changing, but as the population grows, so too does the number of fines issued.
“The overall number of infringements issued annually is increasing as Victoria's population grows and there are more cars on the road.
“Over 99 per cent of vehicles passing fixed cameras and over 98 per cent of vehicles passing mobile cameras comply with the speed limit.
“Fixed and mobile road safety cameras reduce speeds and cut road trauma because they are placed in high-risk or high-speed areas, areas with history of road trauma, or areas that will provide a road safety benefit.
“100 per cent of the money from camera fines is allocated to the Better Roads Victoria Trust Account. The funds from this account are used to improve road safety for all road users."
With an enforcement focus skewed on speed, ask yourself this question: how many speed cameras did you travel through (whether it be a fixed or mobile one) in the past month? Now, ask yourself how many times were you stopped to be tested for drugs or alcohol over the same period?
Similarly, in the past 10 years, how many times did you undertake driver training to improve your skills?
The unfortunate reality of speed camera-biased enforcement can be demonstrated with the tragic death of pedestrian Anthony Parsons and husband and wife Savva and Ismini Menelaou, who were passengers in a Ford Falcon struck at the intersection of Warrigal and Dandenong roads in Oakleigh, Victoria last year.
Brazilian national Nei Lima DaCosta was high on ice and drove through one fixed speed camera at 30km/h over the speed limit minutes before careering through the intersection of Warrigal and Dandenong roads at 120km/h (40km/h over the speed limit) through another speed and red light camera. He killed three innocent people. These two cameras did nothing to help save the lives of three innocent people.
This particular example illustrates why so much more needs to be done on enforcing and dealing with poor driving, whether it be due to drugs, lack of skills or visible policing.
Speed cameras alone will never be a useful immediate enforcement or protection tool against drivers excessively speeding, or people who don’t know how to drive to start with.
Those people that use the idiom “don’t speed and you won’t get caught” simply don’t understand the reality of driving safely. If I had the preference of watching the road or my speedometer, I know which one I would choose.
I’m of the firm belief that we need to overhaul driver training, begin properly blitzing drink and drug driving, along with scrapping low level speed enforcement. I would have no issue with being stopped twice a day for drug or alcohol testing if it meant impaired drivers were taken off the road more promptly.
We also need more transparency on where the money generated from speed cameras goes and where it should be spent.
What do you think? Do you support speed cameras? What else should the government be doing to improve road conditions?