OPINION - More speed cameras help ...

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday 27 November 2002

More speed cameras help - now let's focus on how we use them

The recent push to curb speeding is commendable, writes Harold Scruby, but there is still a long way to go.

The Pedestrian Council of Australia fully supports the NSW Government's recently announced increase in speed cameras, flashing orange lights and fixed speed cameras around school zones and tougher penalties for speeding. However, serious anomalies remain.

Why are there speed cameras in the Harbour Tunnel, a modern divided road, where there have been no deaths or serious injuries? Yet there is none on the Harbour Bridge where there have been many deaths and serious injuries and where vehicles are driven at each other, a metre apart, frequently well in excess of the legal 70kmh limit.

Why are there still relatively high speed limits and never any fixed speed cameras in suburban shopping strips and CBDs?

In NSW, unlike other states, fixed speed and red-light cameras can photograph number plates only from the rear, meaning that this highly expensive technology is only being used to 50 per cent of its capacity and 50 per cent of law-breaking motorists are not caught. NSW Police can photograph number plates from the front and rear using mobile speed cameras and their information is processed through the infringement processing bureau (IPB).

The penalty for defacing or obstructing a number plate is $74 - and no demerit points. It would appear this law is rarely enforced and the offence is widespread and increasing. Recent estimates suggest more than 5 per cent of motorists escape red light and speed cameras due to illegible plates and can escape fines exceeding $1500 and automatic loss of licence for three months. If motorists try to cheat red-light and speed cameras by obstructing or defacing their plates, they should receive at least the maximum penalties.

At present, police officers are required to climb ladders and collect the film from red light cameras. Nearly all infringements are processed by the IPB (part of NSW Police). The fees charged by the IPB for the processing of infringements are not subject to independent review.

The NSW Auditor-General stated in his Street Parking Enforcement Report of November 1999: "NSW Police has a monopoly on the processing of infringements issued by councils. A profit from this source of approximately $1 million per annum is paid by the IPB to the Police Service.

"The setting of prices by the IPB has not, however, been reviewed by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, a body created to review and set monopoly pricing in the public sector. It is suggested that clarification be sought as to whether the Police Service complies with the Trade Practices Act 1974 in regard to requiring authorised councils to use the services provided by the IPB."

In Victoria, the function of managing fixed and mobile speed cameras, red-light cameras and collecting fines has been outsourced, putting 16 police officers back on the beat.

Road trauma costs NSW more than $5 billion a year. Revenue from all traffic penalties should be mandated to go directly to road safety and reducing the road toll, which exceeds 500 so far this year. It will be an investment which will return enormous dividends and silence those who continue to bleat about "revenue raising".

Harold Scruby is chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia.

New front on speed - Cameras modified