New research proposes a way that mobile speed cameras could be more effective in reducing serious crashes in Victoria.
The peer-reviewed paper, written by researchers from the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC), found mobile speed cameras operating on rural roads in Victoria would be much more effective if they reflected how the technology is used in Queensland.
"Abstract mobile speed cameras on Victoria's rural roads are not as effective as they could be due to the site selection criteria, the limited number of sites, and the visibility and predictability of their enforcement operations," the research outlines.
If adapted, these strategies could prevent 22.5 fatal crashes, 172 serious injury crashes and 249 minor injury crashes in Victoria each year.
In Victoria, mobile speed camera sites are currently chosen according to a set of selection criteria. This criteria is based on serious crash or speeding history as well as a set of criteria dictating if it is a safe site for a mobile speed camera unit.
In 2011, the Victorian Auditor General's Office (VAGO 2011) conducted a review into the state's traffic camera program and identified evidence supporting mobile speed camera sites to only be based on physical criteria rather than demonstrated crash or speed risk.
"This is because the primary purpose of the Victorian mobile camera program is to create a general, area-wide effect - the perception by drivers that the program could be in operation anywhere at any time so as to encourage universal compliance with speed limits," the report reads.
"This is in contrast to the fixed speed camera program which is designed to deter speeding only in an area local to the camera."
It considered factors that have led the program to becoming an extension of the fixed camera program, especially in rural areas. These include narrow site selection criteria and a systematic pattern of deployment, meaning regular road users can identify the cameras and adjust their behaviour to where a camera might be.
"As the perceived risk of detection falls, the deterrence effect of mobile cameras is also diminished," it continues, though adding that locating mobile camera operations based on only physical criteria might reduce the likelihood of an identifiable pattern, with the approach also increasing the number of sites available for cameras.
Based on a recommendation from VAGO, Victoria Police conducted a trial of mobile speed camera deployments based only on the physical field criteria in three police divisions during 2014 and 2015. The number of sites was doubled without any need to be based on data about serious crashes or speeding.
Following the trial, it was concluded that while there was a very small reduction in crashes in speed zones below 60km/h, there was no advantage to relaxing the site selection criteria for higher speed limit roads in Victoria.
Sites in Queensland are randomly selected from approved sites in each police district before each shift, to reduce predictability.
Sites are selected after identifying an area with diameter of one-kilometre (in urban areas) or five-kilometres (rural areas) where at least two criteria are met.
These criteria include a speed-related crash, serious casualty crash (resulting in hospitalisation or death) or being an out of control type of crash.
These overt camera operations result in "substantial" crash reductions in the state- up to four kilometres in each direction from the point they were set-up at.
Adapting model to Victoria
The MUARC research states the Victorian Government's decision to increase mobile speed camera hours by 75 per cent presented several beneficial opportunities.
These include increasing the number of sites the cameras operate in, with the vast majority to be in rural areas.
Additionally, new sites should be chosen based on them having at least two serious casualty crashes within 2.5km during a five-year period.
It also suggests randomly scheduling these sites each shift and that each site be operated for at least 35 hours per year.
Social cost savings, based on Human Capital costs of crashes, would be more than 45 times the cost of camera operations.
Meanwhile, mobile point-to-point camera units could also be employed to enforce speeding over longer stretches of rural roads.
Lead author, Professor Max Cameron, has been doing research on the Queensland model for more than 20 years due to an interest in how effective it is both in urban and rural areas.
"Fixed cameras have a role in urban areas but their zone of influence is only about one kilometre in each direction from the camera site. I don't think they're the answer.
"While they've been very popular around the world, mobile cameras are starting to display their own because they give a fear of being caught anywhere and at any time. It's that fear of being caught that makes people change their behaviour."
Professor Cameron said mobile speed cameras could be more covert in urban areas, such as central Ballarat.
"In urban areas they're much more effective as they're usually parked among a number of other cars and it is hard to identify when you go past one but in the rural areas it's quite the reverse situation," he explained.
But it was on the roads outside of regional cities and off the highways - two lane undivided roads, as well as the main highways - where the Queensland approach could be beneficial.
"It's the two lane undivided roads that people don't perceive there is much chance of being caught speeding at that's where this approach would come into its own.
I think the Queensland experience is very transportable to rural Victoria, especially on the quieter roadsProfessor Max Cameron
"I think the Queensland experience is very transportable to rural Victoria, especially on the quieter roads," he said.
The research was submitted as part of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the road toll in 2019.
The final report from the inquiry found mobile speed cameras can improve road safety.
"This is particularly true in rural and regional areas where they can have a wide effect," it reads.
A state government spokesperson said the number of operational hours were recently increased by 75 per cent and the camera fleet upgraded to new Gatso T-Series technology.
They said more than half of the cameras operate in regional areas, with the increase in operational hours seeing an increase of 84 per cent in the regions.
They said the government would work closely with MUARC to adapt the findings from the Queensland model to Victoria.
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