Do speed cameras really save lives? An investigation

December 12, 2019

in

Road Safety

by

Carolyn Tate

If you have a car and a licence, odds on you probably have an opinion about speed cameras. Life savers, revenue raisers, your nemesis…

But like them or loathe them, we’re stuck with them in Brisbane for now and the foreseeable future. So we thought we’d do a deep dive into the stats to find out whether speed cameras really do save lives.

First up, they definitely are revenue raisers, with Queensland Government figures showing speeding fines raked in $206 million and $222 million during 2017-18 and 2018-19 respectively. In 2020-21, that figure is expected to rise to $237 million.

That’s a whole lot of us “just doing a few kms over”.

The Queensland Government promises us they’re just trying to make the roads a safer place, and that the cameras are located in spots of greatest risk, not strategically placed with dollar signs in their eyes. 

But there’s no denying speed cameras generate big bucks. The question is: do they also save lives?

The answer is an emphatic yes.

Speed cameras definitely make us safer

Speed camera campaign in Australia

An average of 58 people are killed on Queensland roads each year as a result of speed-related crashes, and another 295 are seriously injured, but that number is lower than it’s been in years.

The installation of speed cameras has been responsible for making our roads much safer, with the Monash University Accident Research Centre finding Queensland’s speed and red light cameras reduced reported road crashes by 24–30% during the years 2013-15. That’s about 3400 less crashes each year.

Great news, right?

Well, yes, but that’s not where our conversation ends.

Could we be even safer?

There’s an argument to be had that Queensland’s speed cameras don’t go far enough. It turns out we could easily do even better by making one small change.

Right now, we have mobile speed cameras in marked and unmarked police vehicles, and fixed speed cameras located in spots that are known to be danger zones for speed.

And our law enforcers are so transparent with their information about both mobile and fixed speed cameras that you can find out where they’re all located by checking out the Queensland Government website.

Great for us motorists in the short term – most of us know a local black spot where we’ve learnt to ease off the accelerator because we know Big Brother is watching. The Clem7 tunnel, the Airport Link tunnel, Main Street approaching the Story Bridge, Legacy Way tunnel and the Bruce Highway at Burpengary are so well-known, you’ll notice the traffic visibly slow when you get close.

But while it might seem like we’re being clever and dodging a fine, statistics suggest our roads are still more dangerous than they could be, and that by simply keeping the locations of speed cameras a secret, the government could make us safer by further reducing crashes.

As much as it might stick in our craw to admit it, New South Wales is streets ahead of us in this department. The NSW Government announced in early November that they’re considering ditching speed camera warning signs because they would like motorists to be careful all the time, not just when they know they’re being watched.

New South Wales minister for transport Andrew Constance said at the time that red light speed cameras reduce the state’s fatalities by 74%, sharing Monash University’s findings that up to 54 lives could be saved every year by removing the signs.

While New South Wales is the only state in Australia with signage that warns motorists they are approaching a speed camera, sharing that information online amounts to the same thing: we all know where to slow down, and where we can relax and floor it. 

Is it too little too late?

The genie could well and truly be out of the bottle, with Google Maps now rolling out the inclusion of speed traps to a billion or so iPhone user worldwide. This could make the actions of any authority hoping to encourage drivers to behave themselves all – not some – of the time.

Google Maps speed camera alerts

So it could come down to us as individuals, and the choices we make for ourselves – whether you think we can be trusted to do that will depend on where you sit on the political spectrum, but it’s worth noting that you’re not just relying on yourself, but also on all of your fellow drivers, to do the right thing.

Even small increases in speed can have a massive impact. Going 5km/h over the speed limit can double your chances of having a crash, according to the Queensland Government’s Street Smarts initiative. And going 10km/h over the speed limit makes you at four times more likely to end your day badly.

The fine isn’t really the point

Speed camera warning sign at Airport Link tunnel entrance in Brisbane, Australia

All of which leads us to the sobering bottom line, which is that sticking to the speed limit isn’t just about avoiding a fine. It’s about being a responsible citizen and ensuring we’re keeping ourselves, our families and our fellow motorists as safe as we possibly can.

Driving a car remains one of the most dangerous things you can do, and yet most of us do it every single day.

“Land transport accidents” (that’s accidents involving cars, buses, trucks, etc.) are the number one cause of deaths among children aged 1–14, the second highest cause of deaths among 15–24-year olds and, and the third most common cause of deaths of those of us aged 25–44.

After that age it starts to lag behind the myriad diseases stalking us as we age, but the message is clear: being on the road is fraught with danger, and here we are, armed with information that can make it safe for everyone.

So sure, speed cameras definitely raise a bucket-load of cash for our government, but they also keep us safe. Sticking to the speed limit is a win–win for everyone.  

Carolyn Tate

Carolyn is a Brisbane based journalist, author and blogger. Her articles have been published in Sydney Morning Herald, Women's Health, SBS Life, New York Post, Melbourne Age, Cosmopolitan, Body & Soul, Practical Parenting, Essential Baby/Essential Kids, Kidspot and many more.

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