Sunday, 9 March 2014

'Speed Kills Kids': A Massive Revenue Grab.

Three hours in court plus at least twice that time again in preparation was hardly worth it for a $30 speed camera fine. But somebody had to do it. 

Of the hundreds of drivers fined by the camera that snapped me, I was probably the only one who took the matter all the way to the District Court. And I won.

The case exposes a Police practice that is taking a vast amount of money from law-abiding motorists and bringing the Speed Kills Kids campaign into disrepute.

The raw data from the speed camera that issued my ticket are enough to show something is amiss. Of the 1,432 cars that passed it during its 75 minute deployment, 204 were deemed to be speeding. That speeding rate of 14.3% is more than seven times the aggregate of just 1.7% of all 2.5 million vehicles that drove past speed cameras in the Canterbury Policing District in 2012.

The explanation for the huge discrepancy is simple. Around schools, the Police enforce a different rule from the one that they announce to the public.

The Police have a well-publicized policy of permitting a 10kph tolerance for speed limits unless stated otherwise. One of the exceptions is found in the “Speed Kills Kids” policy. According to the Road Code, the tolerance is lowered to 4kph in school zones “during high-use times”.

Lower Tolerance Applied outside 'High-Use Times"

School zone signs define high-use times as school days from 8.10 to 8.45am, and 2.55 to 3.20pm. 

However, this document (below) available only to Police through their intranet reveals that Police apply a quite different policy.

Police have been enforcing the lower tolerance at any time between 7.30am and 6.00pm on school days. I was fined for traveling at 55kph at 2.10pm when school was in session and not a single pupil was to be seen on the road.

Inadequate and Misleading Signage

There is also an issue of signage. Schools should have signs indicating where school zones start and finish. Where I was fined, there was a single sign facing in each direction to advise motorists that they were approaching a school, but no indication further along the road that the school had been passed. 

The Police justify their placement of speed cameras on the grounds that they are within 250 metres of the school entrance as stated in the Speed Kills Kids policy. However, signs are often located less than half that distance from the school entrance. Motorists cannot be expected to adjust their speed unless there are signs indicating that they should do so. 

Worse, where I was fined, the speed camera was not even located between these two inadequate and badly located signs. The photo below was taken from the location of the speed camera showing the 'school' sign in the distance.

Under oath, the camera operator said that motorists traveling in both directions were fined. This means that vehicles traveling towards the camera had already come well past the school when they were snapped while those traveling away from the camera were fined even though they had not even seen the sign saying that they were approaching a school.

Entrapment of Law-Abiding Motorists.

The result is a perfect trap for collecting fines from law-abiding motorists. The Adjudication Section of the Police Infringement Bureau adopts a policy of strict enforcement of tickets issued outside schools and refused to exercise any discretion. The effect of this is that nothing short of a personal appearance in court will avoid the fine. A return of $4,400 from 147 motorists in 75 minutes at one location becomes a massive amount of unfair fines when it is multiplied right across the country.

Only 34 of the infringement notices issued during the deployment that fined me were vehicles traveling more than 59kph. (The Police refuse to reveal how many of these were traveling at 60kph, still within the 10kph tolerance limit.) At 34 notices, the infringement rate would have been 2.4% which is at least in the same ball-park as the annual average for the district. 

Back to the Drawing Board with Speed Kills Kids.

Speed Kills Kids is an important campaign. However, unless it is applied in a fair manner, it risks being seen as yet another policy that is more about revenue than safety. If the Police want public support for this campaign, they need to go back to the drawing board. They should immediately cease fining people outside "high-use times" and at locations with inadequately signage. They should refund the fines they have been unfairly collecting. And they should relaunch the campaign only after they have given it the planning and resources (including proper signage) that it needs to gain the confidence and support of the public.

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