The former State Government of Victoria has been accused of using the sensitive issue of Road Safety to aggressively increase its taxation base by using Road Safety Cameras to raise general revenue. This accusation has previously been leveled by the current State Government and on 31 January 2011 the Deputy Premier said; “Victorians need to have confidence that the state’s traffic camera network is accurate and has proper oversight, which is why the Coalition has requested that the Auditor-General conduct an extensive investigation of speed camera operations and to report his findings to Parliament.”
For example I believe that the Road Safety Camera at Bagshot, which was installed at a cost of in excess of $900,000, is being used beyond its original remit to control level crossing related offenses to RAISE REVENUE from drivers traveling safely along a piece of open road, containing a level railway crossing.
Following the level crossing accident in Kerang where 11 lives were lost, there was a public outcry, and an investigation into safety on Victoria’s level crossings was initiated. Following the Parliamentary Inquiry into the accident and into the state of our level crossings, it was determined that a large number of changes were needed. This despite the fact that less than 2% of our state Road Toll occurs on level crossings, and that the general level of safety has improved by over 85% in the 30 years to 1999, taking the annualised toll to under four (4). “This is more than twice the reduction in the Road Toll over the same period”
One of the changes introduced in 2008 was to introduce a blanket speed limit of 80km/h on all sealed (but strangely not unsealed) major level crossings. This blanket is imposed irrespective of the lines of sight or Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model (ALCAM) rating applicable to the specific crossing.
Looking at the picture provided of the Bagshot level crossing, we can see that the environment is open grassland with level road and open sightlines, with no housing or other developments infringing on the crossing area. The crossing has been this way in my memory of over 30 years of travelling to and from Echuca. During all of those years, it has been safe to continue at up to the general speed limit whilst approaching the crossing, or slow down to whatever speed the driver deemed appropriate depending on the conditions at the time.
So, are we saying that the crossing has suddenly become unsafe?
To my mind, either a level crossing must be either more-or-less safe, or a level crossing is more-or-less unsafe.
Let us say that Bagshot crossing IS more-or-less UNSAFE.
IF the Bagshot crossing IS UNSAFE, it MUST be the duty of the Government and its agents to make it safe.
According to the Level Crossing Fact Sheet #2, the Government spent $1.8 million dollars on 2 Road Safety Cameras in 2007. One of these cameras was located at Bagshot.
Does a Road Safety Camera or a reduction in speed contribute to safety when crossing a level crossing? The Government’s own sources don’t think so. From “Towards Zero – A Strategy for Improved Level Crossing Safety in Victoria”, “ATSB research found unintended driver error was the most common cause of collisions and a factor in 46 per cent of crashes. Alcohol and drugs were less of an influence, as was excessive speed.”
Unintended driver error is the real contributor. The sort of thing that happens when a driver is forced to concentrate on several simultaneous activities at once, such as closely monitoring their speedometer, with attention inside their vehicle because they know there is a speed camera is imminent, whilst at the same time their eyes should be looking outside for warning lights, and casting up and down the train tracks looking for approaching trains.
So, IF Bagshot IS UNSAFE, what is the best way to make it safe? Well the Parliamentary Road Safety Road Safety Committee inquiry is clear that: “While detailed research is limited, the most effective treatments appear to be those that either eliminate the crossing through grade separation,.., or those which provide some physical restrictions such as boom barriers.”
But surely it must be too expensive to make Bagshot safe through the installation of boom barriers? Well no, as VicTrack announced in October 2010 that the $1.59M project to upgrade three Shepparton and Congupna level crossings (the crossings will now feature boom barriers, in addition to the existing flashing lights) is now complete.
Then with about $540,000 required for a set of boom gates the Victorian Government could have made Bagshot significantly safer. Yet, the Victorian Government chose not to make it safer, but rather to spend nearly double that amount (being $900,000) to install a Road Safety Camera at Bagshot. A cynical person could infer that boom gates, whilst being a primary level crossing safety mechanism, don’t produce general revenue.
But now, if Bagshot was safe, and is still in fact more-or-less SAFE
If the Bagshot levlel crossing is more-or-less safe, and scores too low on its ALCAM rating to justify any further immediate expenditures to significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic incidents occurring, then it must truly be asked, why the previous Victorian Government saw fit to spend $900,000 on this Road Safety Camera at a safe level crossing, when there are 2,267 level crossings in Victoria, and at the current rate of expenditures only 50 to 90 UNSAFE level crossings are able to be upgraded per year.
A cynical person could then further infer that, as the real risk of a catastrophic incident on a level crossing is already statistically extremely low, based on the Government’s own figures, that money spent on non revenue returning safety improvements at level crossings brings no general benefit, but that investing in a Road Safety Camera does produce general revenue.
In conclusion, I submit that I was photographed traveling at 99km/h when crossing the level crossing at Bagshot. I further admit that I was not concentrating on my speed at the time, as my attention was fully occupied scanning the railway tracks ensuring that I avoided the twice daily Echuca train.
The floods have badly affected the people of Victoria’s North. Rather than contributing a fine to general revenue, if required, I would be happy to contribute a similar donation to an aid agency of your choice. Thank you for listening.
On 24th February 2011 this matter was heard at Bendigo Magistrate’s Court.
The Magistrate, whilst not willing to enter into a debate on the merits or otherwise of Road Safety Cameras, saw my point of view. She released me on my undertaking to donate a sum equivalent to the fine to the Flood Victims in Victoria.
Following the Hearing, the Prosecuting Police officer approached me. He apologised for “speed cameras” and said he “wished that they didn’t stamp ‘Police’ on the Infringement Notices, as is really nothing to do with them”.
Using this mechanism, I achieved the result of costing the public purse the salaries of the Magistrate, Prosecuting Police Officer, court officials, and court room time. Plus, the State did not get the General Revenue that would have been
sucked into the machine.
Generally, more people should object to Road Safety Camera Infringement Notices. The Magistrates won’t increase the fine over the Infringement Notice, nor will they reduce it. But, you have negated any revenue benefit to the State Government. If they lose the revenue, they will stop seeing speed cameras as easy revenue sources.
Oh, and by the way, a donation is Income Tax Deductible too, for what that is worth.
If I’m ever feeling depressed about work, family, or life in general. I will go and sit in the Magistrate’s Court for a day. People attending that court generally have REAL issues, with alcohol, money, family, and a place to live. Which just makes me realise, I have nothing to complain about.
Wigglesworth, Graham & Routley: Rail Related Fatal Accidents in Victoria Australia: 1990 – 2002.