World News: Australia tests GPS-based speed enforcement

World News:  Australia tests GPS-based speed enforcement

Reports have surfaced in the Australian media that Victoria is trialling the Australasian Intelligent Speed Adaptation Initiative on around fifty government vehicles.

Depending on the results, New South Wales and Western Australia will also conduct trials.

The technology uses GPS to track a vehicle and, if the vehicle is exceeding the speed limit for that particular stretch of road, the unit gives an audible warning. Should the driver fail to reduce speed, the system can enforce the speed limit by cutting power to the engine.

According to a government website, if the device was fitted to all cars, road deaths could drop by between 25% and 60%.

The trial itself raises the issue of whether speed is, as the authorities claim, the root of all road evils.

The ITS International website * posted a comment from John Lambert, who said that road safety zealots continue to promote road safety initiatives based on poor or fraudulent science.
[* Free registration required]

According to Lambert, respected research in first world countries shows that speed is one of on average two factors that are judged to contribute to casualty crashes in 20% to 30% of cases. Speeding, as in exceeding the speed limit, is one of on average two factors that are judged to contribute to casualty crashes in 5% of cases. This percentage may rise to 12% with fatal crashes.

Consequently, Lambert wants to know how the figures were manipulated to arrive at a 25% – 60% drop in fatalities.

Lambert also questions whether there is any sense or justification in setting up any system designed to enforce speed limits absolutely, when the procedure to assess and set speed limits in the first place is an exercise in estimates and averages.

South Africa-based advocate and motoring law specialist Don Smart says there is little merit, if any, in arguing that using technology such as GPS to control the speed of vehicles to within the prescribed limit will result in a decrease in collisions or fatalities.

“Speed is only one of a number of factors that contribute to collisions and road injuries or deaths,” says Smart. He points out that statutory speed limits cannot consider varying road and traffic conditions unless there are variable speed restrictions that are managed, which happens in some countries.

“There must be a clear distinction between inappropriate speed under the specific circumstances (rain, spillages, heavy traffic, light or visibility conditions to name a few), and a predetermined speed restriction which is set using the 85th percentile principle. Driving within the prescribed limit does not mean that the driver is driving at a safe speed.”

In South Africa, there are a number of significant contributing factors that influence road fatalities that far outweigh statutory speeding:

  • Maintaining unsafe following distances
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Reckless driving
  • Pedestrians on freeways – sometimes under the influence of alcohol, sometimes accompanied by a herd of cattle
  • Unroadworthy vehicles: roughly half of all vehicles on South African roads are unsafe – the National Vehicle Testing Association says its 80%, the Automobile Association says it’s only 20%, so it’s probably halfway between the two.

Smart says that driving at 5% and even up to 30% over the statutory limit on open roads and freeways in light traffic is overrated when it’s factored into collision evaluation. Issues such as fatigue and the lack of adequate driving skills are much greater contributing factors on open road long-haul travelling.

Furthermore, negligence and recklessness are not monitored with much enthusiasm by traffic police in South Africa, and aggressive driving behaviour is seldom policed at all.

“The use of CCTV police monitoring of roads would, in my view, be a far more effective use of technology in reducing road fatalities than GPS-based speed enforcement,” says Smart. “In situ CCTV sites and in-car monitoring video devices are proven effective policing tools. GPS-based speed control management is unlikely to reduce fatalities, and the cost factor to both the motorist and the State would be enormous.”

Let’s hope the Australians’ GPS-based speed enforcement idea doesn’t travel west.

South Africa has a habit of latching onto Australian initiatives and trying to apply them at home. In fact, the South African traffic authorities hold their Australian counterparts in such high esteem, the SA Dept of Transport sent a delegation from KwaZulu-Natal in 1996/1997 to Australia to investigate the "World's Best Practice" on road safety in the state of Victoria.

Speeding is, unarguably, the most lucrative road traffic offence to detect and penalise. The jury’s still out on whether enforcing speed limits serves any purpose other than to boost city coffers.

Irrespective of the arguments for or against speed limits and speeding fines, sometimes I wonder if the people who come up with these control-freak ideas have ever sat behind a steering wheel.

There are occasions when even the most law-abiding motorist may have a very valid reason to break the speed limit, e.g. getting someone to hospital in an emergency, or taking evasive action in a dangerous situation. An inanimate gadget with the ability to interfere with a car’s controls purely on the basis of speed is an accident looking for a place to happen.

The Canadians are also road-testing a device that combines GPS and a speed map, but instead of cutting power to the engine, if the driver exceeds the speed limit, the system makes the accelerator pedal difficult, through not impossible, to press.

Transport Canada researcher Paul Boase tested the technology on ten volunteers in the Ottawa area, and while the technology worked, speed limits for all roads across the country need to be mapped before the device could work throughout Canada.

Theoretically the device could be standard on all new vehicles, but initial applications would more likely be for persistent speeders.

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