28/9/2008

The Indiscretion of Speed Cameras

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:52 pm

If a human cop detects someone speeding, using a hand-held or car-mounted radar, he or she has some discretion about what to do. A judgement is made about whether the speeding is dangerous enough to pursue, about whether to issue a fine or a caution, about any mitigating circumstances, and so on.

A speed camera has none of that discretion: if it detects you exceeding the speed limit, you get the fine.

Some people would suggest that that’s fairer – it’s pure and objective, and doesn’t rely on whether the police officer had a fight with his partner over breakfast, or had a great night last night.

But in other ways it’s a scam: you have the option of just paying the fine or of going to court. Going to court is going to cost you work time and hassle, and have the risk of getting costs recorded against you in addition to the original fine. So most people just have to cop it sweet and pay the fine – and by doing so, automatically agree that they were speeding and to that going on their record. It’s just too hard to contest it. So even if there were factors in mitigation, you end up just paying the fine because it’s too much hassle to do otherwise.

(Incidentally, this is how a lot of ‘or your money back’ scams work: you buy the thing, find out it’s crap, but it’s just too much hassle to fight about it so you just take the loss and the scumbags get to keep your money.)

Of course, everyone should obey the speed limit everywhere, all the time. But… 😉

The speed limit is there to increase safety, right? That’s its purpose. It’s not put there for revenue raising, or arbitrarily. Its job is to reduce the number and severity of crashes.

So when overtaking, is it safer to whip around fairly quickly and get back onto the safe side of the road, even if in doing so your speed briefly spikes above the limit? Or is it safer to sit for ages in the on-coming traffic lane when overtaking, in order to avoid going over the limit?

See, a human officer can understand that logic. S/he may or may not agree with it, and may still issue the fine, but the thought process is there. That’s what we lose when we give up our road safety to speed cameras.

Well, that plus the ability to detect all sorts of other offences. A speed camera can only catch speeders. But it’s not speeding that causes the vast majority of accidents, it’s other things like failing to look, failing to indicate, driving while distracted by the phone or something else, drink driving and a heap of other things. A patrol officer can attend to all of those things. A speed camera can’t.