Thursday, 23 September 2010

Speed camera defences are facile and unhelpful

Recently, while riding or driving, I have done the following obviously dangerous things
  • Strayed onto a white line in the pouring rain, and had the bike slip sideways in the middle of a corner.
  • Almost pulled out in front of a car because it was 2am and I had a lapse of concentration.
I have been threatened by other road users in the following ways:
  • Overtaking vehicle leaving its wheels in my lane, next to me, while looking at something else.
  • Vehicles cutting in front while driving slower than me, making me brake sharply.
  • Vehicles trying to merge into me.
  • Vehicles starting to merge in front of me while I was overtaking.
  • Vehicles creeping into road in front of me from a side street, leaving me unsure what its intentions were.
That's just what I can remember, right now.

Notice anything about all of those? Notice any uniting factors?

There were two of them:
  1. They all involved lapses of judgement, and (with one arguable exception) concentration, and;
  2. None of them involved exceeding the speed limit
And yet, the one message we have rammed down our throats is "Speed kills!", "Don't speed!", "Speeding fines are for your own good!"

The most obvious reason is, of course, that speeding is easy to police and it's a low-hanging fruit: Set up fixed cameras with radar/laser attached, set up mobile cameras and leave them, put automatic equipment in patrol cars.

It's much harder to police fatigue, much harder to police inattention (although very obvious when the inattention leads to something dangerous actually occurring), much harder to police drug and alcohol usage (just look at the effort involved in running a random breath test) and much harder to police the road rules in general, although we do have red light cameras.

I have four basic issues with the campaign against speeding:
  1. It focuses on a factor which has been identified, at various times, in various jurisdictions, as being quite a minor contributor to accidents fatal or otherwise;
  2. It is conducted in a way which is offensive to the intelligence of all road users;
  3. It obscures the far more important discussion of driving technique and skill;
  4. I do not remember any sensible discussion justifying this focus, merely scattered claims in advertising.
You could also add: I've never seen any sensible explanation for why speed limits are set the way they are, or justification that they are anything but arbitrary.

And now here we have another contribution, an opinion piece submitted to the Courier Mail from the chief executive officer of RiverCity Motorway, the organisation running the clusterfuck that is the Clem 7 tollway tunnel:

Speed cameras help keep Clem 7 on the road to safety.

When you read this article, you at first don't notice that it's anything but a news story. Then it dawns on you that it's editorialising a bit, then it gets personal, then you look down the end to notice the byline.

Online, this needed to have been flagged as a column from the very start.

The big problem with this article is illustrated right here:
For those people who don't believe speed cameras are an important road safety measure it is worth looking at the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, which opened in 1992 without speed cameras. In 1997, it became the first road in NSW to have fixed speed cameras installed.

This action was taken when it was found that 30 per cent of drivers using the tunnel exceeded the speed limit by 20km/h or more. The highest recorded speed in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was 199km/h.

After the cameras were installed, the percentage of speeding motorists fell dramatically.

Closer to home, the speed cameras inside the Clem7 are in place to safeguard the people who use the tunnel. Speed cameras are the only practical method for speed enforcement in tunnels.
I would like you to notice that at no point in those four paragraphs was there any mention of any accident, crash, injury, fatality, minor bingle, brief nudge, complaint, collision or scrape.

No logical pathway, in fact, from "For those people who don't believe speed cameras are an important safety measure" to "speed cameras inside the Clem7 are in place to safeguard the people who use the tunnel."

No mention of whether the dramatic fall in speeding in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was in any way, shape or form associated with a drop in accident rate.

Speeding is wasteful in fuel, reduces safety margins, is potentially rude and, in traffic, hazardous if you puts you at a different speed to everyone else. The faster you hit something the more damage you do, but this bald claim? I'd like to see anyone get this through an undergraduate essay in any science or otherwise research discipline.

So I have to ask: Have people become so used to seeing the proof that they assume it, and skip over the bit in the middle? Or is this just a debate that runs on unthinking consensus, ideological certainty?

If it's run on proof, then more of that needs to come out in the public debate.

At the moment, there are two factors limiting my speed: What I think is safe, and: the likelihood of getting fined and losing licence points.

And a slavish adherence to the big black numbers in the red circle doesn't seem to have anything to do with what I think is safe. Far more important to me is the behaviour of other road users, the quality of the road, how awake and focused I am, the light conditions, the atmospheric conditions, the vehicle I'm on or in, and the likelihood of somebody or something running across the road in front of me.

I have become used to people I overtook back there overtaking me here because my reading of the conditions made me slow down. I'm used to people who do 75 in the 80 zone then doing 75 in the 70 zone. I've become used to people doing 70 in the 80 zone who do 60 in the roadworks 40 zone, crowding me or trying to get past while I'm riding 2 metres from people wielding shovels.

Speeding? That's the least of the things I worry about.

At the end of this abysmal, preaching article there is this:
It is very pleasing that the vast majority of motorists are driving safely through the tunnel.
And the only evidence presented is that only .5% of motorists have collected a speeding fine.

It's very difficult to have any faith in the ability of any authority to manage any roads when this is the quality of their debate.

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