Sydney Morning Herald - Thursday 4 January 2007

Speeding cameras' hidden agenda

Jordan Baker Transport Reporter

SPEEDING fines have dropped by more than 200,000 in NSW over the past three years, but experts have raised questions about whether drivers are getting the message or just outsmarting cameras.

The figures, obtained under freedom-of-information legislation, prompted lobbyists to call on NSW to follow Victoria and introduce hidden cameras, with research showing they are a better deterrent.

Between 2003-04 and 2005-06, the number of fines generated by all forms of camera - police radar, LIDAR (light radar), fixed cameras and vehicle-mounted cameras - dropped from 847,348 to 627,139.

The biggest drop was among fixed cameras, operated by the Roads and Traffic Authority, which fell by 190,408 to 350,574 over the period. The number caught by police vehicle-mounted cameras grew from 43,003 to 63,378.

Police radar and LIDAR snared more high-range offenders: more than 1.2 per cent of their offenders were driving more than 45kmh over the limit, compared with fewer than 0.07 per cent of those caught by cameras.

NSW advertises speed cameras at sites known for accidents or speeding so drivers slow down. Victoria uses covert cameras, which are designed to make motorists wary of speeding all the time.

Max Cameron, principal research fellow at Monash University's Accident Research Centre, said drivers tended to learn where fixed cameras were located and slow down especially.

"That's one explanation for the fewer high-end speeders [caught by fixed or mounted vehicle speed cameras]," said Dr Cameron, who is a supporter of covert cameras after years of research.

"The fundamental thing about the covert cameras is there's a fear of being caught anywhere at any time No state has been able to demonstrate the same success of Victoria."

The chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, Harold Scruby, who obtained the data, said there was a term for the phenomenon of drivers slowing down at cameras: "site learning".

He called for NSW to follow Victoria's lead. "People know where the cameras are," he said. "They're only slowing down there. We need one generic sign - 'speed and red light cameras used through the state' - but not show where they are."

A Queensland study has shown overt cameras were effective in reducing speeds, but only for a relatively short distance.

The former head of the Australasian College of Road Safety, Professor Raphael Grzebieta, supports hidden cameras, saying they are an "essential component of the enforcement required to get people to slow down".

However, the NSW Police Traffic Services Commander, John Hartley, said that the drop in speeding fines showed motorists were getting the message about speeding.

"More and more are conforming to law," he said.

"This last Christmas period confirmed that. Less speeding offences were detected, but there was an increase in a number of other offences, such as a huge increase in random breath tests."

The Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, said that fixed speed cameras in NSW were well signposted and there were no plans to change the policy. "Speed cameras save lives - they are there to slow people down".

© This work is copyright and is reproduced under licence from John Fairfax Holdings Limited