Speech Essay


Good Evening


Today I would like to talk to you about (what else) speed cameras. Rather than addressing this issue from a revenue raising perspective, I would prefer to talk generally of the effect, if any, that speed cameras have on the road toll.


Excessive speed is involved in at least one-third of fatal accidents according to a NSW Road Traffic Authority report . Sickened by a constant barrage of needless and often horrific deaths on our roads, governments across Australia have taken action to reduce the death toll by lowering speeds. In some States speed cameras have been handed a central role in ridding the roads of the speeding menace.


But these policies are misconceived. There is no simple nexus between speed and death, and speed cameras aren\'t saving lives.


Australia\'s roads are not the dangerous places they are often portrayed as. Between 1980 and 2002 there has been a 48 per cent reduction in the number of road fatalities, with most of this drop occurring between 1980 and 1991. This is now one of the safest countries in the world to drive: nearly twice as safe as Belgium and an astonishing seven times safer than Turkey.


If speed did kill then the safest roads would be urban roads where speeds are lowest. In fact, the reverse is true. It is freeways, where speeds are much higher, which are the safest roads.


Speeding is rarely the cause of accidents - certainly nowhere near as high as the figure of one-third that is frequently quoted. To get to this figure reports often refer to any accident that has speed as a component as being "speed related". But showing that speed is related to an accident does not show that it was the primary cause of the accident. British data, collected by police at the scene of accidents, show that "speed" was a definite contributory factor in just seven per cent of accidents.


A bad driver travelling 20 km/h below the speed limit can be a far more dangerous driver than one travelling 10 km/h above the speed limit. US data show that it is those who travel moderately above the mean speed who are the safest drivers while the least safe drivers are the slowest and fastest. Although speed cameras will catch the very fastest, they also catch the safe, moderate speeder and they completely fail to catch the dangerous, slow driver.


Since 1992 Britain has experienced an explosion in the number of fixed cameras such that now there are an estimated 5000 in operation. You would think that such a proliferation of speed cameras would surely help lower the road toll. However, since their introduction, the average rate of decrease in fatalities is half that of the preceding ten years.


The picture is similar in Australia. Victoria has had mobile speed cameras since the end of 1989 and NSW introduced mobile speed cameras in 1991 and fixed speed cameras in 1999 yet the overall drop in fatal deaths since these dates is no different from that experienced in Australia taken as a whole. Moreover, in both of these States the downward trend in fatalities has slowed considerably in the last few years.


There are two reasons why speed cameras don\'t make our roads safer. The first is that speeding is rarely the cause of accidents.


The second is cameras encourage drivers to stick rigidly and unthinkingly to speed limits. In so doing we run the risk of creating a nation of speedometer watchers who drive according to the diktat of the camera rather than according to the prevailing road conditions.


Driving culture in both Australia and Britain has been nurtured over the years to encourage attentive driving at speeds appropriate for the conditions. It is this (together with better roads and improvements in car safety) that explains the impressive drop in road fatalities. It also explains why Belgian and Turkish roads are so much more dangerous to travel on; the same road culture isn\'t dominant in these countries. The danger is, we risk throwing away our driving culture in pursuit of the opposite culture which promotes compliance rather than judgement.

The growing obsession with speeding and speed cameras is a mistake. Speeding is rarely the primary cause of fatal road accidents and attempts to catch speeders through increasing