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Safety, Dollars, Speed versus Speed.

“It was more like extreme education. It happened about twenty years ago and I’ve never forgotten.”

“Because having the police personally means that I know I am PERSONALLY responsible for my actions. Getting something in the mail just feels like a rates notice or similar bill that just has to be paid (which I may or may not whinge about).”

“Personal interaction with a police officer is far more meaningful than merely receiving something through the mail like any other letter.”

“My young child was in the car with me. I felt like I had let them down.”

“It’s personal, it’s confronting, and it’s timely.”

NRMA Members talking about the effect of being pulled over by a police officer.

“Speeding”. It’s seen as one of the greatest sins a person driving a car can commit. It’s a subject that divides communities, raising ire and bringing forth strenuously opposing views.
But when is speeding speeding, when is it dangerous? In NSW there are freeways zoned at 110 kmh and one at 100 kmh. It’s not uncommon to see the majority of vehicles exceed, and comfortably, the 100 kmh mandated, but the flow seems to be fine at 110 kmh.

Residential roads are zoned as 50 kmh. Certain roads see traffic at no less, and often, 70 kmh.
What is speed? It’s distance over time, be it kilometres per hour or metres per second or thousands upon thousands of kilometres per year in the case of a space probe. It’s nothing more than simple physics but becomes a little more complicated when mass is involved. Why? Maybe this link will help:

Speeding on a freeway or highway like the Hume that joins Melbourne and Sydney certainly has the potential to see excessive speed for the conditions (note the caveat) cause problems but what about the humble residential road?
At 50 kilometres per hour, it takes one second to cover 14 metres. At 70 kilometres per hour it takes one second to cover…wait for it…twenty metres. Think about that for (no pun intended) a second.

At 70 kilometres per hour, you cover an extra six metres per second than you do at fifty. On a long, open sighted highway, not so much of an issue but when it’s a residential road, with cars parked on the road, with the potential for a car or a dog or a ball or a child to suddenly appear in front of you, that six metres per second (coupled with the reaction time plus a probably more distracted or inattentive driver) will suddenly become very important and make a hell of a difference.

Sydney drivers are now used to seeing high visibility police cars in locations that aren’t readily visible to on coming drivers, yet: Seven out of ten (69 per cent) NRMA Members believe that a visible presence of police cars is the most effective way of tackling bad driver behaviour than other methods such as speed cameras.

But: As part of ‘Operation Slowdown’ in NSW, a single Traffic and Highway Patrol vehicle operating on the F3 was able to issue 16 infringement notices in one hour to drivers of unregistered vehicles using automatic numberplate recognition units.

Invariably, it’s presumed by the public that these are the cars that AREN’T highly visible, but the aforementioned non visible locations. It’s also an example that’s completely at odds with the wishes of members to have a more highly visible presence but also clashes with the statements presented by members that an interaction with the police has a higher and more longer lasting effect.

Another statement: It remains vital that education campaigns are followed up with police enforcement to cement the experience. Advertising alone without police enforcement does not change behaviour. The fear of getting caught is dramatically reduced when a person has not experienced being pulled over and randomly breath tested, an activity that can be done whenever anyone is pulled over by a police car.

Again, that interaction with the police is seen as more important. Consider a road that has a high school, a dead end road at that. Car and buses taking students to that school have to enter and they have to leave. Consider that a high percentage of drivers will travel at 70 kmh, not 50. It would appear that the logical thing to do is to place police vehicles in a position to monitor the speeds and enforce the laws pertaining to speed.

The conundrum here is simple: high visibility policing without booking or low visibility with direct interaction? The former will slow the cars but only for the time the car is on site. The second will penalise the drivers and, according to the members feedback, have a more direct and longer lasting effect.

It also begs the question of what is more effective for the mooted objective of the police and government, to reduce the road toll. Speed cameras are not seen as a popular alternative and the point to point cameras also. This statement possibly says a lot more than is realised about this objective: Only a limited portion of the NSW Police Force budget is focused on addressing road safety, so it is important that the money is used effectively.

We’re told that speeding is dangerous. The caveat is excessive speed for the conditions. A long, flat, open highway is as safe as it can be until it becomes wet, fogged in, smoked in from a bushfire or has drivers travelling, under ideal conditions, below the limit for no apparent reason.
A highway can be zoned at 110 kmh, with that velocity mandated to be utilised under the aforementioned ideal conditions. Some sections of road are signposted to warn of ice or snow and you’re warned to drive appropriately.
But on a residential road there’s no such warning system, no such reinforcement of the law, apart from the 40 kmh school zone locations. Inexplicably, drivers are still being penalised for speeding in school zones. Unfortunately there’s no readily available information as to whether there are repeat offenders.

And: The study showed that non-camera based methods were preferred by respondents and had higher self-reported compliance rates

(Soole, Lennon, & Watson, 2008)
Support for camera based methods relied on overt operation and whilst they were recognised as having an important road safety benefit, there was a high degree of scepticism about revenue raising. Some respondents reported no change in speeding behaviour as a result of the use of cameras and others reported more limited site-specific obedience.

To sum up: it seems that people have a longer lasting effect after being physically dealt with by the police, that a higher visible presence from the police will in likelihood change driver behaviour but it doesn’t seem as if the two will meet and work together. It’s expected to see police on a highway but not so on a residential road when there’s a higher proportion, kilometre for kilometre, of excess speed. People would seem to equate a high visibility but non interactive police presence with a speed camera, and very quickly ignored.

And an extra twenty kilometres per hour over the residential limit, six metres per second, has an increased stopping distance that could be vital if a child suddenly appears in front of you on a congested road. But this isn’t apparently seen to be nearly as dangerous as doing 120 in a 110 zone on a road and in an area that’s been specifically mandated to be that velocity.