Some things demand to be talked about and a large camera on a pole which punishes you for going too fast is most definitely one of those things. Speed cameras have a chequered history in Australia and have been accused of everything from a vast Big Brother conspiracy to money making reverse ATM’s. In the past month something very big happened, the New South Wales government gave speed cameras and their impact a luke warm review; hot and cold reviews have been seen, but luke warm reviews from governments are a very notable rarity.
Following a performance audit written by the NSW Auditor General, 38 cameras were deactivated after the author of the audit found that they did not make a “statistically significant” impact on road safety. The importance of this is in the fact that it marks a change in the way politicians in Australia assess the requirements for speed cameras. Previously there were really only two major opinion groups; “speed cameras are a money making rouse” and “speed cameras are needed to improve road safety” however now we have a new fast growing school of thought “speed cameras work, sometimes”.
With an absolute world of statistics to choose from its now almost impossible to argue the validity of at least some speed cameras, so from what was a simplistic argument the debate seems to have grown extra dimensions. Recently an experiment in Stockholm assessed the concept of rewarding those who did not speed by entering them into a form of lottery. Whilst the results of this are open to criticism and potential moral hazards (where it comes to rewarding people for complying with the law), it seems that this and other initiatives represent a welcome new discussion in the effort to save lives on the roads.
Whilst it is beyond doubt that road fatality rates have been dropping in the last 10 years, the question of the cause of this refuses to lower its head. Is it the safer cars, better roads, speed cameras or improved laws and communication that are causing the drops? Without delving too deep into this argument it’s suffice to say we simply don’t know and with the current lack of relevant statistics (after researching for a number of hours the only consistent and reliable statistics seem to be fatality reports) we will struggle to move forward. While the change in debate is welcome, the emphasis must now switch to giving the community access to the statistics and relevant information (from insurance companies, speed cameras and police reports) which could potentially be used to understand where lives can be saved.