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The Northern Territory did not have speed limits on their major highways until mid-2007. They then introduced speed limits and speed limit enforcement. Here are the results.

Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Fatalities 55 53 35 55 44 57 75

A 30% increase in road deaths after the introduction of the ‘speed kills’ policy. That is the only thing that changed. It does not make sense but those are the facts. It was the same in Montana in the USA. The road toll reduced when they had no speed limits and went back up when they re-introduced them. The NT figures have fortunately reduced again since then and let’s hope they stay down.

The following two tables show the number of people killed on Australian roads over a sixteen year period 1989 to 2004.
Data source was the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, now Department of Infrastructure)

1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
2801 2331 2113 1974 1953 1928 2017 1970

Over the first 8 year period above the road toll fell by 30% over the period – without speed cameras. (From 2801 to 1970 fatalities – a reduction of 831 road deaths per year.)

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
1,767 1,755 1,764 1,817 1,737 1,715 1,621 1,583

Over the second 8 year period the road toll only fell by 10% compared to 30% for the preceding period. (From 1767 to 1583 fatalities – a reduction of only 178 road deaths per year.)

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
1,635 1,605 1,611 1,453 1,509 1,367 1,291 1,306

Over the next three years, 2005, 2006 and 2007 the road toll increased which totally reversed the previous long term down trend with an alarming rise in 50km/h zone fatalities. Fortunately 2008 showed some improvement yet 2009 rose again

So why are more people dying on our roads?

The only major factor that changed during the second (1997 to 2004) period was the widespread introduction of speed cameras with lower speed limits accompanied by a reduction in the number of Police Officers on our roads. Our perception tells us that tough speed limit enforcement would have to reduce the road toll. The facts tell us an alarmingly different story; that speed cameras are in fact making things worse.

  • Vehicles are being built safer. This is an ongoing situation. Manufacturers claim the reduction in fatalities is through improved safety features such as Electronic Stability Control and more.
  • Road conditions have improved even though there is much more that needs to be done.
  • Our excellent well trained Paramedics and their equipment and transportation have improved.
  • During the latter period above we experienced widespread drought conditions making roads safer than during average rainy conditions.

These factors along with speed cameras should have driven the road toll lower. If nothing else, the widespread introduction of speed cameras should have at least maintained the previous decline – it didn’t.

FACT 2 – Below-The-Limit Speeding. Not even 2% (two per cent) of road fatalities are caused through travel above set speed limits.
Research shows that not even 2% of road deaths are caused through travel above set speed limits. This means that even with nationwide speed limit compliance, speed cameras cannot reduce the road toll by any more than 2% or around 32 lives per year. Importantly, around half of this 2% involves police chases, criminal activity, suicides and more, not the behaviour of the average responsible motorist. It is below the speed limit where the overwhelming number of people die.

FACT 3 – No data from ABOVE the speed limit.
The justification for speed cameras is based on a lie.
The major road safety focus by State Governments is a massive clampdown on traveling above set speed limits – almost to the visible exclusion of all other safety measures. They use a number of university studies as well as their own reports to justify speed camera legislation yet not a single study that we can find reports that partition the number of road crashes that are caused through travel above and below the speed limit.
It is important to note that it is technically impossible for a speed camera to detect or deter travel below a speed limit and this is where 98% of fatalities occur.
It has become a serious and costly offence with the public paying hundreds of millions of dollars for traveling above set speed limits yet 98% of fatalities occur through below-the-limit speeding. Speed cameras are therefore no deterrent to the major cause of death on our roads – driving too fast for the conditions but below the speed limit.
The reason for hiding the above and below speed limit data is clearly that if it was quoted then any justification for speed cameras would be removed. In the studies the words ABOVE and BELOW the speed limit are substituted with words such as “Speeding” and “Non Speeding” which give no indication as to where the real problem lies.
The leading document used by NSW for the justification of speed cameras is a prime example. It is called Speed Problem Definition and Countermeasure Summary and clarifies the definition of speeding. The document states, “speeding can also involve traveling too fast for the prevailing conditions, despite traveling UNDER the posted speed limit.” The document clearly identifies “below-the-limit speeding” yet fails to address the issue preferring solely to recommend the use of speed cameras which are unable to detect inappropriate driving below the limit. As such they offer no safety benefit where the vast majority of crashes occur. Other States follow similar practices.
The NSW and (other studies) segmentation of the data as “speeding” and “non-speeding” rather than “above the limit” and “below the limit” means that road crash data from below the speed limit can be included in their justification for above the limit only “safety measures”. This is false and misleading and Australians are suffering because of laws and penalties based on these studies.
The lie could be accepted if it was saving lives – it is not. The opposite is happening. The majority of speeding fatalities are caused by “below-the-limit speeding”.

Nearly one person a day would not be killed.
If the eight year 1989 to 1996 reduction in road deaths had been allowed to continue, then 350 people would not have died on our roads in 2004. It was even worse in 2005 with an increase of 52 (from 1583 in 2004 to 1635 in 2005). 2006 was higher than 2004 at 1615. Clearly more of the same is a disaster. Additionally we are falling behind OECD countries and our own National Road Safety Strategy created by the Australian Transport Council admitted they were not achieving targets and has now been swept under the carpet.

We have a serious problem that is not being addressed while speed cameras continue to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars.
A brave initiative is required – a return to the previous sensible policies. Bring back Police Officers cruising in Police cars and put clearly signposted speed cameras only at designated black spots which are appropriately signposted. In this way people will be more cautious and safe instead of being fined.
Don’t say we haven’t got the money to put more Police on patrol. Our state governments receive the revenue from speed cameras as well as most of the GST payments which includes GST on petrol and diesel fuel. The only question is how they are going to spend it – on grand projects we do not need and cannot afford … or on saving the lives of South Australians.

Why are speed cameras adding to the road toll? Simply because:

  • through a change of focus by the majority of responsible motorists. Their focus has changed from getting safely to their destination to focusing on not getting caught by a speed camera. Speed cameras are a major distraction – probably even greater than mobile phones.
  • through a false safety message. Many motorists believe that if they are traveling below the speed limit they are safe yet this is where the vast majority of road crash victims are dying.
  • through not being involved in the process – monotony leading to drowsiness on the open road and in rural areas – single vehicle and head on crashes.
  • through speed cameras not being situated at black spots and clearly signposted. Instead, they are hidden and located at high revenue locations up to 5km away from black spots. No motorists any longer regard them as safety devices, just revolting revenue gathering devices.

Nearly one person a day is dying on our roads who would not be dying had the old common sense policy been allowed to continue while political leaders allow ever more speed cameras.