Are speed cameras improving road safety? Or are they a risk?
The Great Speed Debate. By Andy
You only have to flick open a newspaper or switch on your TV to find the next high ranking Police Representative making a comment on how new cameras are an essential to our safety on the road. But is all as it seems? Do speed cameras work or are there more risks that officials suppress in favor of easy revenue?
“Don’t speed, don’t get fined. Simple”
Or is it? We’re often told either ‘speeding causes more accidents’ or ‘speeding causes more fatal accidents’. But is it true?
I can’t attest to being unbiased. I am a motoring enthusiast first and a human being a distant second. I love track days, I love big motors and I love the smell of petrol. So admittedly I have a natural disposition for all things anti speed. That doesn’t mean I have a great respect for ‘there is a time and a place’ though.
The Road Safety Commission WA has today published its link to the latest set of speeding penalties
, with the justification of how many accidents are caused by speeding.
In Western Australia, 100% of all red light and speed camera infringements go into the Road Trauma Trust Account (RTTA). Those funds are then allocated to a diverse Program of Works to enhance road safety across the state.
Now, people believe that this fund goes to victims, but that is not the case. The Program of
works includes regional and remote road improvements; money which would have usually come from Sate budgets which thanks to the fund is freed up to be spent elsewhere. That means that there is every reason to be suspicious of the Road Authorities having a vested interest in increasing revenue.
And the alarm bells ring. Supposedly 24% of all road fatalities are as a result of speeding in 2015. This is a somewhat unquantifiable assertion and whilst we can’t be sure what statistics form this account, there is equally no true way to attribute the majority of accidents solely to speeding. The exceptions would be speeding to excess in unsuitable conditions; nobody is going to come out well from a hoon doing 120 through a 50 zone – but to attribute an accident to speed when in reality somebody changed lane and had a car hit them which couldn’t stop in time would be woefully inaccurate.
Which raises a major point. Habit. The root cause to arguably all accidents will boil down to habit. Whilst speeding could prove a factor in many accidents, it is essential to appreciate that if the road rules were followed closely, the risk would be intrinsically less. If people kept left, we would have less accidents. If people did not overtake on solid white lines, we would have less accidents. If people used their mirrors effectively, guess what. We’d have less accidents! And whereas speed may have heightened the effects of these accidents, it’s important to highlight that these accidents wouldn’t have occurred if the correct education and attitude was in the problem of course is that there is no profit in educating. A cynical view perhaps, but it is very telling that we see far less investment in this area of motoring as opposed to the huge anti speeding and texting campaigns.
The university of Arizona conducted a study on the number of Motor Vehicle Collisions that occurred along a 26 mile stretch of road in Phoenix. Whilst the results are stated to have not considered the severity of any accidents, the actual frequency of accidents did not change significantly with the addition of speed cameras. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3861844/ It stands to reason that more speed = more risk of injury but there are so many variables that may make that statement only true to vehicles of a certain age or driver type. So much so that we would never truly get a clearer answer than ‘the majority of accidents occurring at speed X in which people were injured, was more or less than the accidents occurring at speed Y’.
Whilst we’re on the topic of frequency, Whilst I doubt the government has any official stats, first hand I know that I’ve see an alarming 4 accidents at camera sites on various freeways. I’ve been cruising at the limit, knowing it’s a black spot. Neither gaining nor loosing speed with the rest of the traffic, I can only conclude that the other vehicles were at or around the speed limit. Yet one of the cars sees the sneaky camera in the bushes. He or She panics to this added stimulus and brakes because he or she doesn’t have the time to check their speedo first. THUD. They get rear ended and there are broken headlights everywhere. Now, seeing this to me not only highlights one of the risks of hidden cameras, but also the fact that normal road rules and their enforcement are practically non-existent at times.
Pump those brakes!
Another argument for tighter speed controls is braking. The Road Safety Commission will have you believe that:
“Stopping distance is the distance you get when you add your reaction distance to your braking distance. If you’re doing 60km/h, add 25 metres (best case reaction distance) to 20 metres (best case braking distance), and you should come with 45 metres. For the sports-minded, that’s the length of two cricket pitches.”
However you can’t ignore hard results. Taking for example the Ford XR8 as tested by caradvice. A stopping distance of 38.78 is achieved at 100km, a great amount in excess of the suggested range. Of course, many cars on the road are far from a brand new Ford Falcon, but the point casts shadows.
Looking further into the distance, we stumbled across some road tests from the UK’s AA. A 2001 ford puma (which is based on the wheelbase of the same age fiesta) will pull up from 80kph in an emergency in just 25m.
And this trend continues. A Hyundai Elantra? 27m to pull up from 80kph. A 1999 Honda Accord? 26.5m. A 2000 HRV? 27.5m.
Whilst there is no denying that more speed equals a higher distance, it is very difficult to swallow the suggestion that the speed limits and their enforcement is due to necessity why cars even as old as 15 years were rolling out of the factory with the capability to stop from higher speeds in the time that the officials are basing their statistics on. Undoubtedly there has to be compromise as there are many old cars on the road, but with a lack of transparency, it is quickly visible on how unclear statistics can be manipulated to back up a story.
It also raises the question of whether the focus should be on increasing the safety of these older vehicles; but that opens another can of worms in itself and nobody wants to see enforced safety checks or the expenses and rorting that would come with them.
Eyes on the Road
The University of Western Australia’s findings in a conducted study which highlights a particular concern that I have as a motorcycle rider. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-26/speed-enforcement-detrimental-to-road-safety-study-finds/7965082
Where they determined that in their small sample size, drivers responded
Taking a motorcyclist’s
perspective, and what we probably all learned in driving lessons, to maintain a speed in a vehicle not equipped with cruise control, we should glance at the speedometer every 5 seconds.
Hell, we only have to listen to the Government’s latest campaign for anti-drive/texting to know that taking our eyes off the road is lethal. Nobody argues that fact. But if glancing at a phone is lethal, then should we be encouraging a habit of speedo hypnosis? When you break it down, checking your speedo is a complex marvel of the human brain’s capacity. We glance at the speedo, focus our attention, interpret the reading, assess if it is acceptable, make adjustments to our feet’s position and repeat. A process which takes 0.5 to 1 second to complete. Added to re-checking your speed after the adjustment and it becomes easy to see how some people can take 1-1.5 seconds to verify and amend their speed. Every. Five. Seconds.
Now our motorcyclist has a lot more sensory stimulus attacking his eyes. Areas which are clouded from a driver’s field of vision in a car, obstructed by things such as the roof, doors and so on are in plain sight to a biker. That means the brain is processing yet more visual information, and re-focusing on a speedometer may take that extra split second longer. Everyone’s reaction times are different, but even at 1.5 seconds at 5 second intervals, that is an entire third of every 5 seconds spent looking down. Extrapolate that into a 2 hour journey and that is now 36 minutes spent looking away from the road. Not to mention the added eye fatigue that this constant change of focus adds to a driver, it is difficult to ignore the fact that tighter speed controls means more tendency to speedo gaze, which increases fatigue and the amount of time spent not looking at the road. Many speedos display other information nowadays, increasing the split second it takes to focus out the number pertaining to your speed.
Dr Vanessa Bowden came to the conclusion that the University of WA’s study above found that people with a lower threshold at which they would get a penalty, were less likely to detect objects in their peripheral vision. Driver’s capacity to process the world around them gets smaller, the more they need to focus on the task of monitoring and modulating their speed.
“Don’t speed, don’t get a ticket’’
may not be that simple afterall and is about as valid as “don’t crash, don’t get hurt”. The split second it takes to verify and micro adjust your speed could be the split second a child wonders into the road, or a car changes lane in front of you with potentially fatal concequences.
We’re not for a second saying that speed cameras don’t have their place. Around schools, in towns and around vulnerable areas, they capture people who refuse to do the right thing. The problem is, they also capture the unaware or those wanting to focus on the road.
It is hard to justify speed cameras honestly and openly, as a mechanism that is more for safety than it is revenue raising.
A hypothetical that I always fall back to after a friend of mine was killed in a road accident: What would have slowed the speeding car down on that fateful day. The driver seeing a speed camera sign so slowing down? Or the driver continuing to speed and getting a letter two weeks later. If speed cameras were solely about safety, we would still have them signposted and they would face a stricter set of criteria under which they could be installed. Signposted Speed cameras DO slow people down at that point whereas the current trend of hidden cameras DOES rise a generation of drivers that might drive slower some of the time, but are heavily distracted the rest of the time.
Our statistical analysis of speed camera sites will follow and be linked back to this page, but until then, happy motoring and stay safe!