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NSW government's backflip proves speed cameras are just moneymakers not lifesavers | Opinion

The NSW Government will reinstall speed camera warning signs after their removal last year.

Speed cameras, particularly the undisguised mobile ones, are nothing more than money-grabbing machines that do more harm than good, and if the government truly cared about saving our lives, they’d invest more in the police force and driver education programs instead. There, I’ve said it, and I’ve spoken to former and current NSW police officers on and off the record who whole heartedly agree. 

And this week’s embarrassing back flip by the New South Wales government on mobile speed camera signs is an admission that they have gone too far.

That’s right, on Tuesday, the minister for transport and roads, Andrew Constance, announced that about 1000 permanent static signs would be installed. This comes 10 months after the government removed warning signs and reduced the visibility markings on the mobile speed camera vehicles in November 2020.

In spin that would even impress Shane Warne, Minister Constance made the introduction of signs seem like all part of an awareness campaign.

“We are already seeing a change in driver behaviour, with 3.5 drivers caught by the cameras per hour of enforcement in June, compared with five drivers per hour in February, and we want that downward trend to continue with these new signs,” he said.

What’s conveniently left out here is that February saw us all returning to the office in NSW, but by June the latest the current COVID outbreak started tearing its way through the state, forcing us and our cars to stay home before a hard lockdown descended on Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Wollongong and the Central Coast that month.

Could the real reason why the warning signs are going up be because the number of speeding fines has exploded so much that even the government thinks it’s all a bit too obvious what’s going on?

Look at the numbers like I did – it’s all there at revenue.nsw.gov.au. From July 2019 to June 2020 there were 452,213 infringements snapped by speed cameras. Then from July 2020 to June 2021 there were 1,066,128 infringements caught by speed cameras.

More than double. With less cars on the road. The same year the signs were removed.

And just to be clear, for the five years before this year, total speed camera infringements never topped hovered between 400,000 and 500,000 each year.

According to Revenue for NSW’s own data, in the past 12 months, $207,410,805 was made from those fines, compared to $105,559,424 from the year before. 

Literally highway robbery, people! And I’m not the only one who agrees – NSW Labor leader Chris Minns also does and demanded the government “put an end to the secret cameras and blatant cash grab”.

“We all want to see drivers slow down and our roads safer. But the data is showing clearly that warning signs work to change driver behaviour and the fact the government is now putting signs back up is proof of this,” he said. 

Minister Constance is quick to roll out the speed kills line.

Speeding is the biggest killer on our roads, with almost 50 per cent of fatalities last year caused by someone travelling at an inappropriate speed,” he said.

Having interviewed many retired and serving police officers during my more than 20 years as a journalist, I can tell you that there are an overwhelming number of those on the front line who would disagree with this politician’s words.

What I’m told by those who actually know first-hand is that while speeding is no doubt one of the causes of fatalities, it is not the biggest killer and there are many other causes in road fatalities, and it all comes down to poor decision making.

The big killers police have told me are distraction, fatigue, drugs and alcohol, driving incompetency and dangerous vehicles, and yes speeding. But speeding was not in the No.1 spot. This is from police officers who have told me they’ve held dying teenagers in their arms on the side of the road. 

These police officers have told me that the best way to reduced fatalities and save lives is to recruit more police and actually have police warning or booking people at the time of the incident.

A fine in the mail for an offence that you can’t remember doesn’t correct behaviour. A cop telling you you’re an idiot and handing you a ticket does.

Another point you should know is that the NSW government doesn’t even know if speeding is the biggest killer, because they don’t know how exactly fast the vehicle was travelling at the time of the accident. 

Again, NSW police have revealed to me that most accident scenes are only attended by local police, as the Crash Investigation Unit is stretched so thin. Local police then have to write a report and the computing system needs a speed to be entered. 

I’m told this by those who have had to do this procedure themselves, and that in the field where a speed is required, the officer has to make a ‘guess’ - not having been there at the time and not having the forensic technology to know for sure. The speed guess, of course, is nearly always higher than the signed speed limit. 

That information goes back to the government and then ministers make their statements.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condoning speeding. As I walk with my six-year-old along the footpath, I see people going 20km/h or way more above the 50km/h posted limit in my suburban street, and I see them as reckless and extremely dangerous. But a hidden camera isn’t going to slow them down.

So, while I’m happy that the speed camera warning signs are coming back, I’m not pleased that the small mobile speed camera signs put up by the operators are not returning. 

Frankly, I agree with those police who see the road fatalities firsthand. Not only should they be paid more there should be more police handing out warnings and fines, that would reduce fatalities. But that wouldn’t make as much money would it?