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28 Feb 2017

What they’d like you to believe about traffic cameras

By Paul Murrell

It seems speed and red light cameras are causing confusion amongst Australian drivers, we explain how traffic cameras work.


A recent story in the RACV magazine RoyalAuto indicates that many members seek an explanation of red light and speed cameras only after they have received an infringement notice.


Huge numbers of drivers are issued with expiation notices (including fines and loss of demerit points) every day and yet, according to the RACV, this accounts for only 0.5% of passing traffic, implying that 99.5% of drivers are within the speed limit (at least at the precise moment they pass the camera).


Red light cameras, apparently, are the cause of the most enquiries. In Victoria, the minimum fine is $379 and three demerit points, and because a red light infringement is considered so serious, there is no option for a warning... Ping! Flash! Pay up!


Red light cameras are triggered by inductive loops right after the stop line. They are not located within the intersection. In Victoria, the sensors activate half a second after the light turns to red. The cameras take two photos, one second apart, to check if the vehicle continued driving after crossing the sensor.


If your vehicle is already past the sensor when the light turns red, theoretically you will not be fined if you drive on, protecting drivers who have already entered the intersection to make a right turn. Too bad if you attempt a right turn by crossing the line more than half a second after the red light.


Many red light cameras will also detect speeding offences, and there are permanent speed cameras in ever-increasing profusion. Each has two independent speed measurement devices, each using different technology. To be issued with a penalty, you need to be detected by both devices. What is not addressed is that red light cameras do not provide any evidence of your vehicle behind the white line when the light is red, meaning an induction loop cannot prove that your front wheels crossed the line before the light went red and that you then continued through the intersection after the light turned red, which you are legally entitled to do. Also overlooked is whether the induction loop is tied to a specific camera to make a legal connection between the devices, as they are require to do to establish traceability of evidence.


Point to point (or average speed) fixed cameras are also appearing on more and more stretches of multi-lane highways and freeways (there’s little to be gained if you can speed along the road, then exit the road before being timed by the second speed camera). The biggest problem with these cameras is that even if you slow down for each of the cameras, driving above the speed limit between the camera locations means you can be issued with an infringement notice. Unfortunately, there is nothing in a modern car that can tell you what your “average speed” between two points is or was, so you’re always at risk of being fined. There’s another problem, too. In law, there is a principle of “double jeopardy” that protects people from being fined twice for the same offence. A driver passing the first of two point to point cameras could, conceivably, be fined for travelling above the speed limit. Assuming he/she continues to travel above the speed limit, when clocked by the second speed camera, an infringement notice will be issued for exceeding the average speed. And finally, as he/she passes the second camera at a speed above the posted limit, a third infringement notice could be issued.


According to the RACV, mobile speed cameras can only be used in “Victoria Police-approved locations”. Really? These cameras are mounted on the top of almost every patrol car and detect the speed of motorists travelling towards or away from the police vehicle. Stationary cameras can be set up in any place within the approved locations that meet the guidelines. Before they can start catching errant motorists, a process of setting up and testing must be undertaken, as well as checking the speed signs either side of the camera location. Once the session is finished, the data is transmitted for processing.


Two people independently check that the camera operator followed the processes and met the guidelines, including that the speed limit is correct. Supposedly, every mobile camera is checked to ensure it is in the correct place before its images are assessed and every image of an offence is double checked to ensure it meets the criteria. Should there be any doubt, a third check is undertaken to reduce the odds of anyone receiving an infringement notice in error, which makes it interesting that so many infringement notices are mistaken (and all too often paid in any case). This entire process, from the perspective of motorists, is less than transparent. Assuming a motorist wishes to challenge an infringement, accessing this data can be difficult.


Automatic number plate recognition is rapidly becoming part of the arsenal of enforcement. Vehicles equipped with ANPR cameras regularly park beside roads and drive through car parks scanning the number plates of vehicles. If a vehicle is discovered where the registered owner has outstanding fines or warrants, the Sheriff or police are notified. However, dummy number plates are easy to create... what’s to stop an unscrupulous owner finding a car of similar make and model to his/her own, producing a set of acceptable false number plates and attaching them to his/her own vehicle?


The odds, unfortunately, are stacked against you if you receive an infringement and believe you have grounds for a review. There are instructions on the infringement notice itself explaining how to request a review, but few are successful... you are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. As mentioned earlier, red light camera offences are particularly difficult to dispute, unless you can demonstrate that there was a proven emergency situation (such as having to move out of the path of an oncoming emergency vehicle) and, as with so many inflexible road rules, completely overlooks the circumstances of the offence. Victoria Police set the speed enforcement policy and process requests for reviews of fines. Fixed and mobile cameras are the responsibility of the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation. VicRoads ensure traffic lights are correctly set and operating, and that speed zone signs are correctly positioned. The integrity of the system falls under the control of the Road Safety Camera Commissioner who is not authorised to investigate individual cases.

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