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Red-Light and Speed Cameras As Expenditure Reducers

Road crashes cost at least $20 billion a year, leaving aside the human suffering.

So the usual accusations of “revenue raising” directed at Chief Minister Jon Stanhope’s proposal this month for point-to-point speed cameras was misplaced. Speed and red-light cameras are not revenue raisers. They are expenditure reducers. A large portion of the $20 billion comes out of government coffers: public hospitals, rescue; rehabilitation; disabled pensions and so on. The most recent Bureau of Transport Economics paper suggests about a fifth of the cost is borne by government

To the extent speed cameras reduce speeding and road crashes, they save government money. To take the argument to the extreme, if speed cameras were so blanketed as to ensure total compliance with speed limits, they would raise no revenue. But they would cut the road toll by at least a third – a saving of more than $1 billion a year to Australian taxpayers.

An interesting way of reframing, from a good piece by Australian journalist — the figures he cites are from Australia — Crispin Hull titled “A New Attitude to Speeding Needed.” (or after the jump)

(Horn honk to Michael Paine)

OW we are nearly all safely home after the holidays, it is a good time to look at what might be done to make next holidays safer.

I wrote “nearly all” because 2000 people did not get back home safely – they were seriously injured in traffic crashes, or did not arrive home at all.

Most safety experts agree we should tackle the problem on several fronts: safer cars; better roads; driver education; better policing; and one other factor I’ll mention anon.

We can well afford to. Road crashes cost at least $20 billion a year, leaving aside the human suffering.

So the usual accusations of “revenue raising” directed at Chief Minister Jon Stanhope’s proposal this month for point-to-point speed cameras was misplaced. Speed and red-light cameras are not revenue raisers. They are expenditure reducers. A large portion of the $20 billion comes out of government coffers: public hospitals, rescue; rehabilitation; disabled pensions and so on. The most recent Bureau of Transport Economics paper suggests about a fifth of the cost is borne by government

To the extent speed cameras reduce speeding and road crashes, they save government money. To take the argument to the extreme, if speed cameras were so blanketed as to ensure total compliance with speed limits, they would raise no revenue. But they would cut the road toll by at least a third – a saving of more than $1 billion a year to Australian taxpayers.

The point-to-point cameras have a further advantage: they are fairer to motorists. This is the critical other factor in reducing road deaths and injuries.

Unless the vast bulk of motorists see traffic enforcement as fair and reasonable, we will never get the sort of changes in attitude we have seen in the past two decades on things like smoking and industrial safety. If unsafe conduct carries general opprobrium, fewer humans will engage in it. It is human nature to seek approval of peers.

Twenty or 30 years ago, only “sissies” used ear muffs or mouth filters on industrial sites. Now peer pressure is the other way.

The point-to-point cameras take an average speed between two points. They are less likely to capture a moment’s inadvertence and more like to capture sustained culpability and are therefore fairer.

Heavier penalties, particularly for low-end offences (like NSW’s three-point loss for speeding below 15km/h), are counter-productive because they drive people into the “revenue-raising” camp instead of building up community attitudes that all speeding is unacceptable.

But often drivers do not know what the limit is. They have driven through so many zones they forget, get confused or are mistaken.

Enter Intelligent Speed Adaptation. Australia has been a leader. About four years ago George Germanos – spurred by an fine resulting from a mistake over the speed limit — decided to map Australia’s speed limits and put them on a navigation system that would warn drivers when they were speeding – either filling the screen with a red warning or putting out a warning beep.

The Navig8r system has just come on to the market. It can be updated regularly over the net for small fee. A mobile-phone system which updates automatically when it is turned on is on its way. All cities, major towns and highways have been done and the rest is being done.

In some systems, fuel flow to the engine is reduced to bring the car back to the speed limit, with an override for emergencies.

Other technologies to overcome poor driving are on the way, such as sensors to slow tail-gating cars and electronic stability control. The latter automatically brake or add power to a wheel to bring an out-of-control car back to the straight and narrow.

Stability control is an element in safety ratings by the Australasia New Car Assessment Program, which is perhaps best known for its crash-testing and rating of new cars.

Some manufacturers worry about these things because they add cost or their cars are shown up as less safe. But other manufacturers know a good rating and extra safety gear can add to salability.

Another worry is that the federal-state uniform system for new-car approvals has a tendency to cater for the requirements of the weakest state and might prevent a state taking the lead on new-car standards. Victoria has been champing at the bit to make some of these technologies compulsory.

It is no good having uniform safety laws if they are uniformly low.

Outside new-car approval at least it is possible for a state or territory to go it alone and push the safety barrow. Stanhope, for example, is thinking of New-Zealand style tough messages like “Drink Drive – Die in a Ditch”.

Here is a wish list for between now and next summer:

People thinking of buying a new car should go to ANCAP.com.au to check the car’s crash rating. Survival is worth paying for.

Drivers should think about installing the Navig8r system in existing cars. It costs no more than other systems without the speed-advice system.

Governments should make stability control and intelligent-speed-adaptation systems compulsory in new cars.

Governments should adopt the star rating system for roads, however embarrassing it might be. The embarrassment of a two-star rating for parts of the road between Sydney and Brisbane or the capital and the coast might spur some action.

Governments should be more ambitious in road-toll targets. Stanhope’s target of 10 is commendable, but with a road system as good as the ACT’s and Australia’s highest educated population, why not aim for a zero toll? And for the rest of the country to follow suit.

We have about 20 billion reasons for doing so.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 9th, 2009 at 10:43 am and is filed under Traffic Culture, Traffic Enforcement. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Red-Light and Speed Cameras As Expenditure Reducers”

  1. Vincent Clement Says:

    Hogwash. I’ve read reports that crashes moved from the intersection to before the intersection when red light cameras have been installed.

    I’ve also read reports that in several jurisdictions, a large chunk of the fine doesn’t go to government – it goes to the company that is in charge of the red light cameras, processing the pictures, issuing tickets and collecting fines. In some cases, said company is even in charge of the appeal process – wonderful.

    Some reports have mentioned that red light cameras were installed not intersections with high accident rates, but at intersections with high volumes and that the length of the yellow light was reduced. Hmmm, reduce the yellow means more violations. More volume means more tickets. More tickets means more revenue.

    But now that people are seeing through that charade, the government has to change it’s marketing campaign: No, it’s not about raising revenue, it’s about expenditure reduction. Thing is, it’s still about the money.

  2. Brad Templeton Says:

    Actually, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration did an evaluation of the cost of accidents. Their number was 230 billion dollars, not 20, but they were factoring in the cost of human suffering.

    http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/Communication%20&%20Consumer%20Information/Articles/Associated%20Files/EconomicImpact2000.pdf

    “The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Accidents” is a must-read for Traffic fans, and was part of the impetus for my research into Robocars. After all, if “a bit” of computer engineering can save almost 3% of the GDP, it’s a pretty big deal.

    And that’s not counting the cost of congestion, and the plain old cost of time spent driving.

  3. Brad Templeton Says:

    Duh, sorry, I now re-read and see that number was for Australia, which makes sense, and may actually be higher per capita than the USA. I haven’t seen a worldwide figure but it’s hard to argue it’s not well north of a trillion. Per year. Makes the bailout small.

  4. aaron Says:

    I’m amuzed how they compare the results to a fictional value. Sure, if they reduced traffic accidents, they’d reduce expenses. This is highly dubious. If they were effective enough to get full compliance, they’d save $1 billion a year. Even if we lived in their utopian world of full compliance, they still ignore the economic cost of lost growth.

    Boo.

  5. John Says:

    It’s Phantom money. Just the way that “reducing obesity” will save x bazillions per year and save tens of thousands of lives.

    If you multiply ANYTHING by that large a number, you get scary numbers. By following the DOT’s recommendations, no-one would drive at all, who wasn’t in either a tank or a semi (which is what the DOT is there for: Semis, not cars.)

  6. matt Says:

    @Vincent Clement: Did you even read the article? This is about point to point cameras, not red light cameras or cameras which measure instantaneous speed. Then you go on with some anecdotes about how “in location x, it is hogwash, therefore it is hogwash everywhere”. As they say, the plural of anecdote is not data. Also, this was a journalist, not the government who put forward the idea.

    @aaron: Lost growth due to keeping to the speed limit? Are you serious?

    Anyway, it still seems a bit dubious to be able to quantify the results of these cameras. I’m not entirely convinced that the road toll would be cut by one third if speeding was eliminated. Eliminating speeding will reduce the number of crashes, and less crashes will be fatal, but it wont eliminate all the fatal crashes where speeding was a factor.

  7. aaron Says:

    It is about red light and point to point cameras.

    Yes, I’m a little serious. Going the speedlimit is generally a good thing, but not always. Depends on type of road and conditions. Electronic signs and variable speed postings would be a good fix.

    You won’t get the reduction in accidents you expect, and there are better ways of achieving that. Making licenses more difficult to get is one way. People should be expected to have a certain amount of skill and alertness to drive. Subsidizing taxi and delivery services and reserving the road for more competent drivers is a better solution.

    Focusing on people obstructing flow would be much more valuable. People not signalling, driving a certain threshold slower or faster than traffic flow, people accelerating too slowly, cruising in the left lane (when the road is below capacity). And getting offenders off the road. These are the things that will improve safety… and efficiency and economy.

  8. matt Says:

    I did miss the reference to red-light cameras, I apologize. The majority of the article is about point to point speed cameras though, and my point still stands: a few anecdotes doesn’t make it hogwash. I’m also curious as to how red light cameras move collisions to the intersections adjacent to the cameras, does anyone have links to reports that find that?

    And I’ll admit I’m no economist, but I suspect forcing a lot of people to wait for taxis will have a significant detrimental affect on growth. I do agree your suggestions would make people safer though.

  9. Colin Says:

    I’ve thought before that speed limit signs should be able to automatically communicate the speed limit to cars, which could act on the information by, for example, making the dashboard glow red when the car exceeded the limit. Or perhaps sounding a piercing in-car alarm?

    It’s sad that a third-party is providing this service. If the govt is going to have ever-changing speed limits on its roads they should be responsible for making it easy to comply with them.

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