HERE'S ANOTHER REASON TO SLOW DOWN
Andrew Heasley, James Button
Point-to-point speed cameras will soon be on the Hume Highway, report Andrew Heasley and James Button.
Be warned if you're speeding on the Hume Highway six months from now. You might slow down on that dip where you know the police car usually lurks, but even if you fool the cops there, you might still get nabbed.
Later this year the State Government will install five sets of point-to-point speed cameras on the Hume Highway. The cameras, which are new to Victoria, measure a car's speed not as it passes the camera but over a stretch of road 60 to 120 kilometres long. If a car's average speed over that stretch exceeds the limit, the driver gets booked. It's the next step in the State Government arrive alive! campaign to cut road deaths by 20 per cent over five years.
Road safety experts agree that in the city the campaign is working. Average metropolitan speed times are down and so is the urban road toll.
But the installation of new speed cameras, radar and laser guns - and the indexation of speeding fines, announced in this week's budget - is pushing revenue from fines to unprecedented levels.
It raises the question: Is Bracks slugging speedsters to save lives or make money?
This coming financial year Victorians will be hit by 2.25 million traffic fines, the majority of them for speeding. That's 500,000 more tickets than this year. The state stands to collect $427 million from police fines - $100 million, or 30 per cent, more than the figure this year. Just a few years ago, in 1999-00, these fines made the Government $99.5 million.
The $427 million in police fines is less than 2 per cent of total revenue, but it is still a nice little earner, nearly double the state surplus. And that infuriates the RACV.
``It's unbelievable that a government is relying on motorists to commit offences in order to have a surplus in their budget,'' says David Cumming, the RACV's government relations manager. Why, Cumming asks, is the Government so sure it will achieve an extra $100 million from fines?
``You'd have to suggest they're proposing to put cameras where their No. 1 priority is revenue and not road safety. They're putting these things on freeways with large volumes of traffic, whereas people who are getting killed are out in the country.''
But police, VicRoads and Victoria's key road safety academic insist that the Government's main motive is not to make money but to save lives.
Ian Johnston, of Monash University's Accident Research Centre, says it's a ``total furphy'' that police put speed cameras in spots that will enhance revenue collection. ``I say that after lots of lengthy discussions with senior police about their objectives in the enforcement program.''
Dr Johnston, who appears in TAC anti-speeding commercials (he's the man commenting on two cars hitting a truck), acknowledges that many drivers ``do get dark'' when they cop a fine for speeding a few kilometres above the limit.
However, ``it's not well understood by people (but) there is absolutely no doubt that being 5 km/h over the limit in urban areas does raise the crash risk.''
Dr Johnston cites research that shows driving 65 km/h in a 60 km/h zone doubles the risk of a crash. It's the same risk as driving with a blood-alcohol level of .05, he says. Doing 70 in a 60 zone quadruples the risk, and ``if you're a hoon who is doing 80'' the risk is raised 16-fold.
``We want to stop the one-in-a-100 who is doing 80, but we also want to stop the huge number of people doing 65. That brings the whole risk down.''
The focus on speeding followed an alarming rise two years ago in the road toll. State fatality numbers are nowhere near the bad old days of 1970 (1061 deaths) or even 1989 (776) but the 2001 toll of 444 was the worst in a decade.
Transport Minister Peter Batchelor credits arrive alive! - which includes not only cameras but better road surfaces, education campaigns on fatigue and booze buses for the bush - for last year's drop in deaths to 397.
The campaign is ``first and foremost and only a road safety strategy'', he says. He argues that fining speedsters will also deter them, and, accordingly, revenue will first rise, then fall. For example, he says, the fixed camera on an approach to a CityLink tunnel issued 3700 infringements a day when it was installed in December 2001 but now it issues only 240 a day.
VicRoads figures also suggest Melbourne people are getting the message: average city speeds in uncongested 60 km/h zones have dropped from 65 km/h to 61 km/h between the start of 1999 and the end of last year.
The news is not so good in the bush, where average speeds in 100 and 110 km/h zones rose by about 4 km/h in the nine years to May last year. That partly explains why, last August, the number of rural road deaths exceeded the number of metro deaths for the first time since 1993. ``The country is a real concern,'' says Eric Howard, VicRoads general manager of road safety.
In the bush, booze kills even more than speed: nearly one in three driver and rider deaths in rural areas last year involved a blood-alcohol reading of .05 or more. Across the city and bush, drink-driver deaths are at their highest in 10 years.
The budget provided country police with 40 more radar guns for their cars.
Mr Batchelor says these are better than fixed devices in rural areas because ``there's a pretty lethal tradition of people telling everyone in the pub where the road safety enforcement is''.
Attitudes have to change, he says. Country people cling to two discredited myths: that most rural road deaths involve city drivers away from home, and that they won't get caught.
Is the Government on a winner with its anti-speeding push?
In last year's election campaign Opposition Leader Robert Doyle attacked the Government's reduced tolerance on speeding - down to 3 km/h over the limit. The issue failed to bite and the Opposition transport spokesman Geoff Leigh lost his seat.
New Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder is sure the speed camera program is pure revenue raising. But whether the Opposition persists with its greater tolerance proposal depends on a review of its road safety policies.
Eric Howard says VicRoads is pretty excited about lower metropolitan speeding levels. But drivers are less excited - and that, says Dr Johnston, is where the risk to the Government lies. ``While people believe it's revenue raising, you've got a credibility problem.''
He suggests two measures to show that the state's goal is safety, not revenue. One is to hit people with demerit points - but no fine - if they speed up to 65 km/h in a 60 km/h zone. The other is to pour all the money the state makes from speed cameras into road safety programs rather than into consolidated revenue.
Public support is critical, he says. ``We don't want civil disobedience. We don't want a confrontation between police and the community. We want to get a behaviour change like we got with drink driving. We have to carry the people with us.''