Too many don't get the picture

The Sun-Herald

Sunday 17 December 2000

ANOTHER Christmas. Another warning about the lethal cocktail of speed and the car. But this year, as Transport Minister Carl Scully launches the latest $2 million horror TV advertising campaign to bring us to our senses, there is a new urgency: the authorities believe we are heading for our worst road toll in three years.

The awful portent of that news is that, despite slogans and pictures designed to shock, double demerit points, four-figure fines and lengthy bans, too many drivers still don't get the message. And until they do, the Christmas season will continue to be marred by misery.

Our ambivalence to speeding is best summed up by the anger created by cameras which capture images of those putting their lives and ours at risk. Authorities say the cameras are a deterrent, a major weapon in a growing arsenal designed to cut the road toll. But too many drivers believe the speed camera is an annoying irritant, an excuse for Treasurer Michael Egan to reach into our pockets and extract hard-earned cash. They forget there would be no revenue if no-one was speeding. Police and the Roads and Traffic Authority have installed 27 fixed speed cameras across NSW, 10 in Sydney. Speeding drivers risk a minimum $114 fine, the amounts these cameras bring to the State coffers is awesome but that sum isn't the result of the State's attempts to cash in on the road toll. It illustrates our folly and reckless disregard for a law designed to keep us and our loved ones safe.

The cameras undoubtedly have a deterrent effect. Figures obtained by The Sun-Herald suggest the numbers of people speeding on roads with fixed cameras are down as much as 90 per cent.

Sadly, it has not been enough. In the first 10 months of this year, 38pc of NSW road deaths were caused by speeding drivers. Last year 245 people died and 4,347 were injured in crashes where excessive speed was a factor.

What is needed now is a sea change in our way of thinking. Almost two decades ago, when the Wran Labor Government introduced random breath testing, there was a similar debate over whether it was designed to raise revenue. Motorists protested, arguing that roadside testing for drunkenness was an infringement of their rights.

How those who protested must feel embarrassed today. Although described as a social revolution and one of the greatest leaps in the State's social history, RBT helped halve the road toll.

It is time those who speed were treated with the same social disdain as drink-drivers. The human toll of misery they cause is the same.