Speed cameras are popular in Canberra, at least with the police and with those who benefit from the revenue they produce. Fines generated by speed cameras typically amount to more than $10 million per year. Yet speed cameras tend to be unpopular with drivers who receive infraction notices because of them, particularly when the infraction notices are undeserved.
The ACT uses four different speed camera systems. Some cameras are in a fixed position and operate automatically while mobile cameras are operated by officers.
Speed cameras use a laser to record a vehicle’s speed. If a vehicle’s speed exceeds the limit by a predetermined amount, a fixed camera will take a picture of the vehicle, capturing the vehicle’s licence plate. Based on the speed readout on a mobile speed camera, the operator can decide to take a picture of the vehicle. In either case, an infringement notice can be sent to the vehicle owner, who can pay the fine, contest the violation, or nominate someone else as the driver of the vehicle.
The Chief Police Officer of the ACT contends that the visible presence of speed cameras deters drivers from speeding and prevents accidents. In a 2014 report, the ACT Auditor-General found no evidence to support that belief. She concluded that there were too few speed cameras to make a difference and that their haphazard placement made it unlikely that they will reduce traffic accidents.
From a driver’s perspective, the Auditor-General’s more troubling conclusion is that the ACT’s speed cameras are unreliable and expensive to maintain. That expense leads drivers to wonder whether they are maintained as carefully as they should be. The Auditor-General found that in a significant percentage of cases (as high as 43 percent at one point), infringement notices are never sent because the license plate cannot be read or because too many cars appear in the picture to spot the offender. According to the report, mobile cameras are even less reliable that fixed position cameras.
The speeding page of the “ACT Policing” website assures drivers that “speed cameras are certified as being correct at regular intervals.” The fact that they are capable of measuring speed accurately under test conditions does not mean that they actually measure speed accurately under all conditions. The ACT Police also tell drivers that the “speed cameras are only able to target one vehicle at a time.” It may be true that they only target one vehicle, but does that mean that they take a picture of the vehicle that is actually speeding
Reliability issues with speed cameras might give drivers an opportunity to defend against a speeding charge. At the very least, they may give a driver’s lawyer an opportunity to negotiate for a lesser speeding charge. Drivers who receive an infraction notice because they were identified by a speed camera should consult with a traffic lawyer if they are concerned about demerit points or other penalties, or if they believe they were not speeding and want to contest the accusation.