A new attitude to speeding needed

by Crispin Hull on January 31, 2009

NOW 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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How We Drive, the Blog of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic » Blog Archive » Red-Light and Speed Cameras As Expenditure Reducers
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Paine 02.01.09 at 7:52 am

The problem is that most motorists do not appreciate the extra risks involved in travelling just a few km/h over the speed limit. Most think that the risk of a casualty crash is doubled if you a travelling at least 25km/h over the speed limit. The truth, which is based on the unbreakable laws of physics and the frailty of the human body, is that in urban areas the risk is doubled for each 5km/h over the limit. So travelling at 70km/h in a 60 zone quadruples the risk of a crash in which someone is hospitalised. As a result, about 15% of road fatalities could be prevented if the (large) group of motorists who routinely travel at up to 10km/h over the limit were encouraged to obey the speed limits.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for enforcement methods like fixed speed cameras to have an effect on this “minor” speeding. An added problem is that even motorists who want to obey the speed limits (to keep their life, licence or livelihood) have difficulty doing this in modern cars on city roads. This is where Intelligent Speed Assist comes into its own. The system has a very simple function, backed up by very clever technology. It knows the location and speed of the vehicle and, from an on-board database of speed limits, it can alert the driver to speeding. I have been using an ISA device in Sydney since mid 2006 and have prepared papers for international road safety conferences. Participants at these conference often express disbelief that Australia is leading the world with this technology. Sometimes they claim there could be negative outcomes, such as always driving at the speed limit rather than to the conditions, but numerous ISA trials around the word have shown these claims are unsubstantiated.
Yesterday the Sunday papers in Sydney had a Harvey Norman brocshure advertising the Navig8r M35 unit for $148. This unit, as described by Crispin, can be run exclusively in speed alert mode displaying just the speed limit and current vehicle speed. This avoids the distraction of the navigation map, which is rarely needed for regular driving (the map is instantly available by touching a button the screen but I would like to see any sat-nav device require the vehicle to be stationary before it accepts any touch screen input).
In my view, every novice driver should be issued with such an intelligent speed assist device for the first year of driving. Maybe the resulting responsible driving would rub off on the rest of us.

Max Pallavicini 02.01.09 at 11:22 am

Dear Mr. Hull,

Your article on road safety again tinkers only around the edges of the problem, like so many comments and articles by Australian road safety organisations, the various RTA’s and motoring clubs. The fact is that Australia is a “Can’t Do” country, where new ideas either are never considered at all, or 20 years after less developed countries have implemented them. While it is commendable that with a lot of talk, talk, talk our road toll has slighly decreased, the way our mentally restricted authorities go on you will never get a zero road toll. Who knows: next year it might go up again, and every life lost or maimed is one too many. As I once wrote to you the only sure way to get a lasting reduction in the road toll is by insisting that Learners, P-Platers, offenders and old persons (like myself) go through rigorous simulator training, and where necessary retraining, where the test person is submitted to many different hazard situations and his/her reaction measured, all acompanied by modified legislation. It’s done in Europe now, but will never be done here where concrete heads are in charge of the licensing authorities and police who can’t see the wood for trees. And of course there are vested interests who don’t want to see their primitive jobs endangered by professional training with simulation.

Of course safet cars and better roads are also important. But Australia will never the trillions necessary to build better roads, and horrible accidents even occur on freeways. And of course safer cars come from overseas.

As a person who learned flying I can only say that flying is infinitely easier than driving a motor vehicle. You can yourself imagine why. At $55 Mio. dollar per day you’d have the whole country soon covered by professional driver training simulation centres. Of course I realise that this couldn’t be done over night and some accidents will always occur.

Happy dawdling on in the Can’t Do Country. Kind regards Max.

Rod Brown 02.01.09 at 6:09 pm

Dear Crispin

Thoughtful piece of yours today – we are on the same page. I wrote the attached for my monthly column in LG Focus this month. I have had a gutfull of the death and misery – my personal view is to put speed traps up every tenth bloody gum tree – and use the revenue for good causes!

kind regards

Rod Brown
Cockatoo Network
(& APD Consulting Ltd)
Canberra ACT Australia
apd@orac.net.au
02 – 62317261 Mobile 0412 922559
BLOG http://www.investmentinnovation.wordpress.com

Keith Chappell 02.06.09 at 10:20 am

Crispin,
I read your column on Saturday re the Road Toll and possible solutions. I believe most current proposals overlook the real reason for road deaths, which is driver attitude.

I am a retired ACT Driving Instructor who covered 80,000 kms a year on ACT roads, plus the normal 15,000 in non professional driving.

The suggestion below was submitted a few years back to the then Safety Manager of Road Services, who listened politely to me, put it in his in tray, and rang me a couple of months later (nothing in writing) to say he had made various legal and administrative enquiries and the scheme was unworkable, none of which I believed.

If any progress is to be made towards lowering the road toll, it will not be made with the present cosmetic methods in place. Until authorities take an unpopular tough approach, nothing will change. However, whether state and territory governments have the political will to implement such an approach is highly unlikely, so we will continue to sacrifice thousands of productive lives and $20b pa into the forseeable future.

Over the years I have received agreement from people in the driver training area and a Sydney journalist, but disagreement from people whom I suspect would see themselves as victims of such a scheme.

Keith Chappell

Keith Dot Chappell kdchappell@bigpond.com

Road Watch
1.The present system of Road Rules Enforcement involves low surveillance and high penalties. This system should be reversed to a system of high surveillance and low penalties, by making greater use of Demerit Points, which would be renamed Re- Education Points. Points should be easier to lose, and more difficult to regain. Drivers at risk of losing their licences because of an impending “zero points” situation could regain points by voluntarily attending accredited Road Safety courses, this being a “one-off “ opportunity to re-educate themselves in the area of driver attitude.

2. The method by which drivers lose points needs to be very simple to administer, but difficult to challenge. Applications for licences (and renewals) would contain a clause stating that the driver accepts Road Watch as a condition of the licence.
As there are no financial penalties associated with this proposal, drivers would be extremely unwise to involve themselves in the costs of a legal challenge. Penalties which already exist for breaches would remain unchanged.

3. A body consisting of thousands (countrywide) of honorary, anonymous Road Marshalls (for want of a better term) would be established to monitor driver behaviour and report breaches to a central office, which would then advise the Registered owner that he/she has been penalised 1 point for a breach at a specified place and time. If the registered owner denies driving the vehicle at the time, the name and licence no. of the driver will need to be supplied. Obviously there will be difficulties with fleet vehicles, but the owner of such vehicles would be expected to take their own disciplinary actions to protect their interests and reputations. N.B. Many fleet vehicles at present have bumper stickers asking the public to report careless driving.

4. The Road Marshalls would be subjected to similar character and personality checks to those applied to such people as JP’s before being appointed. They would also need to have a comprehensive knowledge of Road Rules, plus a great deal of common sense and the ability to interpret traffic conditions, given that a driver may break a road rule in order to prevent a serious accident. They would probably be people who spend a fair amount of time on the road, and would be spread over the whole state or territory. Initial consideration would be given to people who apply because of a genuine interest in curbing the road toll, not because they believe that “All whatevers are rotten drivers!”

5. The beauty of this system is that it is self regulating. A Marshall who submits an extremely large number of reports is obviously unsuitable because it begs the question of whether he is concentrating sufficiently on his own driving, or he has a set on a particular age group, sex or even nationality. If reports about one driver are received from several different sources, then that driver has a problem. A concentration of reports from one area could indicate a road design problem or an under policed area. Other interpretations of data could be made by experts in this area.

6. The underlying philosophy of this scheme is one of self re-education. Any thinking driver who loses 1 point with no financial penalty should realise that he is being offered an opportunity to reassess his driving behaviour and act accordingly to rectify it. I believe that once a driver changes his habits in this way, it very soon becomes apparent that this new way of sharing the road is not so hard, and stress levels are lowered considerably, to the benefit of all road users.
As mentioned earlier, a challenge to the loss of 1 point would have little appeal to any intelligent person. Is the cost of a day in court, plus loss of pay really justified when all that is required is a resolution to avoid loss of further points? After all, the points will be re-instated every two years, by which time your new driving attitude will be a habit.
I also believe that 90% of road problems are caused by 10% of drivers who frustrate and infuriate otherwise good road users, so this scheme is directed at that 10%.

FAQ’s.

Q. Does the Law allow a driver to be penalised under these conditions?
A. Laws are being changed on a regular basis. That is the job of the Government.

Q As happens at present, another party is coerced into admitting driving the car at the time. How does this system prevent this.?
A. It doesn’t, but the friends and family have to be responsible and place the blame where it is due. They are the ones who are most affected by road tragedies. Eventually the driver will run out of people to nominate, and even if it takes this circumstance to educate the driver, haven’t we achieved our aim?

Q How can fleet vehicles be included?
A As stated above, most fleet operators will know who was driving their vehicle at the time, and it is in their interest to protect their vehicles and reputations, even at the expense of a driver.

Q How can you force drivers to accept this scheme as a condition of a licence?
A The same way that P Platers are obliged to display a P Plate on their car as a condition of their licence.
Many P Platers consider themselves to be “branded” by this requirement, thus making them a target for Police and other drivers. There is the possibility that under this scheme, P Plates could become voluntary, used only as an indication to other drivers of inexperience, and a request for consideration. However, 1st Year P Platers would only have an allocation of 4 points, rising to 8 points in the 2nd Year, but the voluntary aspect would obviate any claims of discrimination for the purposes of Road Watch.

Q. How is this scheme financed?
A. Hopefully by savings from the $20 billion that road trauma costs us.

Obviously this proposal needs much further development, but I see this as a starting point.

Joe Murphy, Bonython 02.06.09 at 12:02 pm

Crispin Hull (”Twenty billion and 2000 reasons to aim for a zero road toll”, January 31, Forum, pB5) surmises that if Australia were blanketed by speed cameras then the road toll would be reduced by at least a third and there would be a saving to the taxpayer of $1billion per annum.

Based on this assumption you have to wonder why this hasn’t been done: after all, is not the human life precious?

I would surmise that the different Australian governments enjoy the revenue that the cameras provide and can spout that they are taking road safety seriously.

Speed cameras can’t solve the real problems of road safety, you know, the ones that actually kill and maim people.

Joe Murphy, Bonython

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