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Do Speed Cameras Save Lives?

2 minute read

It’s draconian. It’s unethical. It’s revenue-raising. It saves people’s lives.

Whether you love them or loathe them, speed cameras are here to stay and so is the debate on whether or not they actually stop fatalities from occurring.

Firstly, it’s no secret that speeding kills.

On NSW roads alone, casual speeding (that is travelling 10km or less above the posted speed limit) is the greatest cause of road deaths each year. It’s listed as one of the Five Fatal Factors and contributes to 30% of road fatalities Australia-wide and 24% of serious injuries annually.

With over 45% of all fatal crashes occurring on roads with speed zones of at least 100km/h, travelling at high speeds is something the human brain is simply not equipped to deal with.

Speeding is undoubtedly a behavioural issue that needs to be addressed, but are speed cameras the most effective way to stop speeding?

According to the research, yes… to an extent.

Between 2013-2015, Monash University Accident Research Centre analysed the data on road crashes in the Queensland areas where speed and red-light cameras have been introduced. Their research found that the number of road crashes occurring in those areas reduced by 24-30% after their introduction (approximately 3,400 fewer crashes a year).

2020 modelling by the same institute also identified that recent changes to NSW’s mobile speed camera program, such as the removal of warning signs, would save between 34-43 lives per year in NSW alone and prevent more than 600 serious injuries.

Evidence-based research shows that speed camera enforcement is one of the most effective methods to reduce speeding and save lives. In fact, casualty crashes can be reduced by up to 30% in areas where speed cameras are used.

Why? Because of the expectation of anywhere-anytime detection.

The panopticon effect induced by unmarked speed cameras should theoretically encourage obedience naturally. In other words, if a person is aware that they could be under surveillance, they are likely to avoid behaviours that will result in punishment. Then if someone is caught speeding, a fine or loss of licence will deter them from future offences.

In line with this logic, the Australian Government has continued to push for road safety through speed cameras and in 2020, the NSW state government made a controversial decision to remove warning signs for mobile speed cameras across the state. The move resulted in a large spike in the number of fines being issued and an even larger amount of revenue being raised solely from mobile speed cameras – $2.5 million compared to the years previous $400,000.

While this seems to favour the argument that speed cameras are only there to boost revenue, if we think back to the key goal in mind – road safety – and consider the fact that speed cameras are meant to instil a fear of anywhere-anytime detection, however controversial, the move made sense.

If drivers simply stuck to the posted speed limits, drove to the conditions and were warier of their driving behaviours on the road, there would be no controversy to argue about. Much more importantly, there would be fewer fatalities on the road.

Regardless of whether there are warning signs or not, whether cameras are clearly visible or hidden, no speeding means there’s no one to catch, no one to fine and therefore no argument.

We all make mistakes, and no one is a perfect driver, but the reality is that people die on our roads every day and almost one-third of these deaths are caused by speeding. In the end, it’s not the speed camera that kills people on the road – it’s the driver stepping on the gas.

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