Australian speed cameras continue to face scrutiny

| Friday, August 26, 2005

Another snafu in Australia’s network of speed cameras has spurred more doubt about the use of automated traffic enforcement systems.

According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, hundreds of drivers traveling on the Hume Highway at Somerset on July 21 were issued tickets for exceeding 80 km/hr, roughly 50 mph.

The problem? The speed limit on the road is 90 km/hr – approximately 55 mph.

Apparently, the technician responsible for calibrating the cameras set the speed at 10 km/hr too slow. Victoria police are expected to send withdrawal notices to all of the falsely ticketed drivers, the Herald Sun reported.

This incident is the latest of a series of problems in Australia that have raised questions about the security, effectiveness and validity of traffic-monitoring cameras.

On Aug. 9, a judge in Sydney, Australia, threw out a speeding case after the Australia Roads and Traffic Authority admitted they could not prove that pictures taken by an enforcement camera in the case had not been altered, Australia’s Daily Telegraph reported.

The case centered on the security of a mathematical algorithm that encrypted every picture taken by the cameras. The RTA was unable to find an expert who could prove the encryption was tamper-proof.

The ruling could set a precedent for many others who have received tickets in connection with the speed cameras, which have been in operation for more than 15 years and generated more than $104 million in fines last year alone, according to the Sun Herald.

On the same day, the RTA also admitted that cameras in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel – which were installed to monitor toll evaders – had been turned off for three years. No tickets were given via the cameras during the time they were off, the Daily Telegraph reported.

During the same week, the Herald Sun uncovered a 50-page manual from the RTA that details other major flaws in the camera system. The paper would not reveal some of the bigger gaps due to safety concerns, but did point out other smaller problems, such as camera distortion from metal signs, fences, wall and roadside postal boxes.

U.S. traffic cams also under scrutiny
As red light cameras face scrutiny abroad, one city in Florida is using the technology as a warning system, rather than a revenue source.

The Orlando Police Department announced in early August that it would install red light cameras at intersections throughout the city to catch light runners in the act, despite a Florida law that prevents the cameras’ photos or video being the sole evidence for a traffic ticket, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Violators won’t receive a ticket – they’ll just get a warning letting them know they were caught, as encouragement not to do it again.

So far, the camera is being used as part of a pilot program, and will be moved daily to prevent drivers from knowing its location.

“You can either have a two-ton dump truck invade your privacy, or a camera,” Russ Colthorpe, a representative for the camera manufacturer, told WFTV-TV. “Which would you prefer?”

Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, municipalities are implementing speed and red-light cameras without the restrictions of a no-ticket law. In Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Police Department has installed nine new red-light cameras and three speed enforcement cameras. The new cameras bring the total surveillance cameras in the city to 48.

At least two states are reviewing whether images from red light cameras are enough evidence to issue traffic tickets.

In Minneapolis, a city where 16 red light cameras were installed at 12 intersections as a pilot program, only about 40 percent of drivers caught by the cameras were actually issued tickets.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, about 11,500 drivers were photographed between July 7 – a month after the cameras were installed and the first day tickets began being issued – and Aug. 6. But there were technical problems with the cameras such as blocked views from tree branches and larger vehicles.

The cameras also erroneously photographed drivers who were making legal right turns on red. Of the 11,500 drivers caught on camera, only about 4,500 drivers were issued tickets.

Meanwhile, in Missouri, state Attorney General Jay Nixon is questioning whether the photographs provide enough proof to hand out tickets to motorists.

“I think it’s pretty clear these pictures can’t be the sole or only evidence to cite drivers for violating state traffic laws,” Nixon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have deep concern whether taking someone’s picture rolling through a stop light is adequate evidence in and of itself to uphold a state traffic law.”

Several towns in Missouri have already installed the cameras, and more are expected in the near future. Officials in the towns say the cameras would help enforce local ordinances, and would be out of the jurisdiction of statewide laws, according to the Post-Dispatch.

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer
aaron_ladage@landlinemag.com

Comments