The Rip-Off State: South Australia’s Revenue-Raising Speed Camera System

Poor South Australia.

Prior to Federation, things looked so bright for the fledgling colony. It was founded, not by convicts, but by free settlers (the only other Australian state able to make the same boast is Victoria), and was the first state to grant women the right to vote. But somewhere along the way, what initially promised to be one of the more dynamic and progressive states turned into a stagnant, economically troubled backwater.

South Australia continues to break records, but in all the wrong ways. Of all the Australian states and territories, it has the highest unemployment rate – one set to worsen further in 2017 when the massive Holden manufacturing plant at Elizabeth closes down.

South Australia also has the second-lowest mean household income in the nation.

So lacking are the opportunities in SA, it recently pinned its hopes on economic recovery by becoming a dump site for the world’s nuclear waste (a hope temporarily scuttled by a citizen’s jury that refused to believe the government’s pro-nuclear propaganda, and was unwilling to trust a government incapable of maintaining healthy suburban water pipes with handling highly dangerous radioactive waste).

Thanks to its lack of amenities and social and economic opportunities, South Australia has an unusually large exodus of people fleeing to the Eastern states in search of a better life.

To further compound this dismal picture, South Australia also has the highest obesity rate in the nation. Compared to the rest of Australia, South Australians also suffer a higher rate of “high or very high” psychological distress.

SA: The Rip-Off State

South Australia has also garnered a well-deserved reputation as “The Rip-Off State”. Despite its lack of amenities and opportunities, South Australia costs more to run per capita than any other state in Australia, thanks to years of stagnation and government ineptitude.

South Australian power prices are among the highest in the world. In return, South Australians receive an unreliable, blackout-prone power system that became the laughing stock of the nation on September 28, 2016 when the entire mainland portion of the state lost its electricity supply. Apart from idyllic Kangaroo Island (which has its own separate power station), the entire state was left without power just as the afternoon peak hour period kicked off, and remained that way until early the following morning.

Thanks to its economic disadvantage and absurdly high power prices, South Australia has the highest proportion of electricity disconnections in the nation.

South Australia also has the highest fees and fines in the nation; its leaders are so lacking in strategy and vision, their only ongoing strategy to increase much-needed revenue is to tax and fine their constituency higher and harder. Given that South Australians are so poorly placed to afford such a draconian regime, it’s hardly surprising the state’s traffic fine system has been dubbed the most unfair in the nation.

Which brings us to perhaps the most pathetic thing of all about South Australia. In most other states, the citizenry have at least enough sense to regularly boot out their incumbent governments after one or two terms, before they spread their tentacles too far and cause too much damage.

But not in South Australia. Despite the incumbent Labor government’s appalling economic track record (and the well-publicized sleazy behaviour of some of its leading figures), the South Australian public has seen fit to vote it into power for a staggering four consecutive terms!

It’s at this point unsympathetic readers might refer to the old adage about people getting the political representation they deserve. And while many South Australians clearly are gluttons for punishment, the absolute popular vote at the last state election was actually slightly greater for the opposing Liberal Party. However, the state’s electoral boundary system saw to it that the incumbent Labor Party was returned to power once again.

And so while many South Australians may indeed be getting the low standard of political representation they deserve, over half are not. As a result, they continue to be subjected to a manifestly unfair and harsh traffic infringement system that contemptuously treats them like a horde of ATM machines.

It’s Official: South Australians are Getting Shafted

In April of this year, the Australia Institute – an independent public policy think tank based in Canberra – released a report into South Australia’s traffic fine system (you can freely download the full report here).

The report found South Australia issued approximately 423,000 traffic fines in the 2014-15 financial year. This equated to an average of 0.31 fines per registered car in the state, a similar number to Queensland (0.36), Northern Territory (0.30) and New South Wales (0.25), but significantly higher than Tasmania (0.07). (Victorian data was not included in the report)

“The problem for South Australians”, the report stated, “is not the rate of issued fines, but the value of them.”

The Australia Institute found South Australia was by far the state issuing drivers with the highest value of traffic fines compared to the amount of registered vehicles in the state: $129 per registered car.

This was significantly higher than New South Wales, which came in at second-worst with traffic fines worth $75 per registered vehicle. The rate in Tasmania, the lowest of the five states and territories examined, was just $11 in traffic fines per registered vehicle.

As Table 3 from the report illustrates (see below), the average fine amount in South Australia was $410, much higher than any other state. The average fine in other states ranged from $157 in Tasmania, to $305 in New South Wales.

The report also found that some commonly-issued traffic fines rose between 66% and 160% from 2000 to 2012, despite inflation justifying only a 41% rise.

Liberal MP Ian Venning: Speed Cameras ARE Revenue Raisers

November 8, 2010 saw the publication of a University of Adelaide report titled Speed Cameras: Life Savers or Revenue Raisers? Commissioned by Liberal MP Ian Venning and prepared by Jasmine Weatherly as part of the University’s Parliamentary Internship Scheme, the report was critical of South Australia’s approach to road safety.

The full report can be freely downloaded here.

“Various case studies from Australia and other countries”, it noted, “demonstrate that speed cameras do not have an impact on the road toll as much as governments claim they do.”

Furthermore, whatever small effect these studies found may also have been overestimated because “many studies often fail to control for potential variables, such as regression to the mean and the effects of other road safety measures, which further overestimates the impact that speed cameras have had.”

The report also noted speed cameras “have been operating in South Australia since 1990, but their effect on the road toll is questionable, in comparison to other road safety measures in the state.  Revenue-raising claims against the government also continue to occur, and may even be justified, considering that only two of the state’s top 10 revenue-raising locations were also in the state’s worst black-spot areas in 2009.”

Among the recommendations of the report was the establishment of “a select committee into the effectiveness of speed cameras in South Australia”. But when Venning, armed with the report, moved a motion in the South Australian parliament calling for just that, he was promptly opposed by the Labor Government.

Because if there’s one thing governments relish as much as wasting taxpayer money, it’s the opportunity to block any attempt at independent oversight and investigation of their questionable antics.

Of course, they’ll never admit as much. Instead, they contrive the most intelligence-insulting excuses to convince people their self-serving obstructions are in fact for the public good. And true to form, Labor MP Tony Piccolo claimed the move by Mr Venning was, in effect, “giving a green light to hoons and other lawbreakers and putting the safety of families at risk.”

Piccolo, an accountant turned career bureaucrat/politician, further claimed Mr Venning’s motion did little more than undermine the efforts of the SA Police.

“It blunts the thrust and importance of the road safety message,” Mr Piccolo said. “It oversimplifies the serious road safety message facing our community and tries to turn it into a taxation matter.”

Give us a break, Tony.

Piccolo put forward an amendment supporting the actions of the SA Police and ruling out any need for an inquiry – an amendment his Labor cohorts were only too happy to approve.

Labor MP Tony Piccolo (right), pictured with former SA Labor premier Mike Rann (2nd from left) and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (2nd from right). Among Rann’s claims to fame was a 2009 incident in which he was repeatedly and publicly smacked in the head with a newspaper by the angry estranged husband of a woman with whom Rann allegedly had an extra-marital affair. Rudd, meanwhile, initially achieved fame for getting thrown out of a New York strip club after staff took offense to his drunken behaviour, then later for repeatedly behaving like a tempestuous, sociopathic brat once elected to Australia’s highest public office. A complete lack of class, self-respect and decorum is in no way an impediment to political success in Australia.

Did You Actually Read the Report, Tony?

As anyone who’s bothered to read Speed Cameras: Life Savers or Revenue Raisers? would know, Piccolo’s attack on Venning had no basis in reality.

As researchers had previously noted, “it is not speed itself that is normally the primary cause of an accident.” Speed is generally only a secondary factor in road accidents because “speed is a factor in any accident involving a moving vehicle.”

This is an important point: Road authorities have repeated the “speed kills” mantra so often that many people simply assume it is true, without ever stopping to question its veracity.

Other road safety bureaucrats who can’t quite bring themselves to lie outright and claim speed is a major cause of accidents, will instead claim “speed is a major factor in motor vehicle accidents”.

The logical response to this claim, of course, is “So what?” It’s an utterance every bit as dumb as saying “marriage is a major factor in divorces”.

Being a Homo sapien is a “factor” in all motor vehicle accidents, because no other animal species drives motor vehicles. Sitting in a motor vehicle, being on the road, being in a vehicle that is moving and not stationary, being a licensed driver, being male or female, being able-bodied, and being over sixteen years of age are also “factors” involved in the overwhelming majority of motor vehicle accidents. But they are not, in and of themselves, causes of motor vehicle accidents.

One of the most basic rules of good science is that association does not equal causation. There’s a massive gulf between a factor merely associated with motor vehicle accidents, and an attribute that causes motor vehicle accidents.

And when we look beyond government bullshit, and instead hold the “speed kills” mantra up to the unforgiving light of impartial scientific scrutiny, we see a story emerge that stands in stark contrast to the one told to us by our truth-twisting ‘leaders’.

A sterling example of government anti-speeding chicanery occurred in a report by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory. It claimed speed “was a major contributory factor in about a third of all road accidents.” In reality, the report actually showed that excessive speed was the causative factor in only 7.3% of all accidents. The TRL claimed the one-third figure was attained because speed was also [allegedly] a factor in accidents included under other headings, such as sudden braking and careless driving. However, in 2006, the UK Department for Transport itself finally conceded that only 5% of road accidents were caused by drivers exceeding the speed limit.

One of the researchers cited in the University of Adelaide report, UK professor Alan Buckingham, had in 2003 also called out the NSW government for similar misleading antics. The Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW had claimed 30% of fatal accidents involved speed. However, the RTA’s category of “speed” included “trucks jack knifing”, “fatigue”, and “alcohol”!

Buckingham stressed that a careful distinction needed to be made between the terms “speed”, “speeding” and “excessive speed”. The terms are typically used interchangeably despite having very different meanings. “Speed”, the term used most frequently in British TRL reports when examining correlates of accidents, is so broad “it could allow the authors to record any accident as  ‘speed-related’ simply because speed is a factor in all collisions  as objects cannot collide if they are not moving.”

The term “speeding” generally refers to exceeding the posted speed limit, a typically arbitrary limit that is not evidence-based and bears no relationship to the current  conditions. While driving 10 km/h above the speed limit on an empty highway in clear dry conditions is technically illegal, few sane people would attempt to argue it is a lethal or even dangerous behaviour.

“Excessive  speed”,  on the other hand, is driving at a speed inappropriate for the conditions.  “It would apply,” as Buckingham notes, “if a motorist were travelling at 50 km/h on black ice on a highway with a 110 km/h speed limit.  This designation is subjective depending upon road condition, vehicle condition, driver abilities, and so on.”

One need not be speeding in the legal sense to be driving at an excessive speed: Travelling too fast for the current conditions is not the same as exceeding the speed limit.

Further Rebuttals to Piccolo’s Poppycock

Rather than give a “green light to hoons and other lawbreakers”, the University of Adelaide report recommended an increase in police patrols on South Australian roads. Police patrols have the ability to detect and immediately halt a wide range of dangerous driving behaviours which speed cameras cannot even begin to, such as driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol, driving while using mobile phones, failure to wear seat belts, failure to give way to oncoming vehicles, risky lane-changing and overtaking behaviours, and so on. Again, speed cameras are about as useful as boobs on a bull when it comes to identifying and halting these truly dangerous behaviours.

The report also recommended an increased focus on other road safety measures. A South Australian study published in 2008 reported that 44% of rural crashes involved single vehicles. In almost half of these accidents, an unsealed road shoulder was identified as the major cause. One of the suggested solutions was to seal all left shoulders on right-hand curves in rural roads, as drivers frequently over-correct their steering and lose control after drifting on to the loose gravel surface that typifies these shoulders.

In accidents resulting involving roadside hazards, most of the trees, poles and fences struck by vehicles were situated within nine metres from the edge of the road. Therefore, it was also recommended such hazards be removed from within 9 metres of all rural roads with speed limits of 80km/h or more. In instances where this wasn’t possible, it was alternatively recommended safety barriers be erected between the road and these hazards, or for speed limits to be reduced on the affected sections of road.

In urban areas, UK research had found that the installation of physical impediments such as road humps and speed cushions reduced the accident rate by 44%, compared to only 22% with speed cameras.

The Largest Road Toll Reductions Occurred Prior to Speed Camera Use

Governments, and the road safety researchers they fund, make much ado of the observation that the road toll declined after the introduction of speed cameras. What they conveniently neglect to mention is that the Australian road toll was already steadily declining before the introduction of speed cameras. Take a look at the following table, bearing in mind that most Australian states began using speed cameras between the years 1988-1991 (WA = 1988, VIC = 1989, SA = 1990, NSW = 1991).

Sources: Road Deaths Australia, 2008 Statistical Summary, Road Deaths Australia, 2011 Statistical Summary.

During the sixteen-year period spanning 1975 to 1991, the Australian road toll declined by a hefty 54%. Over the subsequent sixteen years, from 1992-2008, the road toll declined by 45%. If anything, the decline in the Australian road toll slowed after the introduction of speed cameras – a point also noted in the University of Adelaide report.

Speed Cameras are a Revenue-Raising Sham

The bottom line: There is no reliable evidence that speed cameras reduce the road toll, not in South Australia nor elsewhere. Instead, there is a wealth of evidence that they are being used primarily for revenue-raising purposes. Any government that claims otherwise is ignoring the research, and instead relying on half-truths and outright lies in order to maintain their highly lucrative anti-speeding racket.

N.B. This document is to be used Without Prejudice towards the author. All rights reserved.

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