Even police officers reckon hidden speed cameras are 'revenue-raisers'

Many drivers argue that speed cameras should be accompanied by heavily marked police vehicles and actual police officers. Source: Getty

Drivers tend to have mixed views on whether covert speed cameras – the ones where a police officer hides behind a tree, unmarked vehicle or some other shelter – actually reduce the incidence of dangerous driving.

Critics say that sure, drivers slow down for a split second when they spot the camera, but that largely the cameras are just revenue-raising machines for the state government, especially when the cameras are placed in areas without significant speed problems just to catch someone driving 3 kilometres over the limit, while others where drivers are known to speed are ignored. 

An actual police officer or two in a highly marked vehicle would do far more good as a warning to drivers to slow down, drivers often claim, than placing a sneaky camera at the bottom of a steep hill to catch motorists who’ve failed to step on the brakes aggressively enough. 

Supporters, meanwhile, usually suggest that the people receiving the unexpected speeding ticket may well think twice next time they’re tempted to speed, and that any deterrent to speeding is a good thing, given that even a few kilometres over the speed limit can be deadly in certain circumstances. If you’re not breaking the law, you don’t have a reason to worry, they argue.

But now police officers in Queensland have come out on the side of the critics, with the local police union boss telling the Courier Mail that his members wanted the state government to stop employing covert cameras hidden in unmarked police vans or in unstaffed trailers.

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“Essentially we are asking for all mobile speed cameras, vans, trailers, cars and trucks to be staffed by police at all times and to be clearly marked with police decals,” Ian Leavers told the newspaper, saying officers were sick of receiving abuse over the ‘revenue-raisers’, as much of the public saw the covert cameras.

According to the Courier Mail, covert cameras added $132 million to the Queensland government’s coffers in 2017, after snapping 106,000 drivers going over the limit – almost as many as the 163,000 drivers who were caught by police officers.

But when approached by the newspaper, the state’s police minister palmed the issue off to the Queensland Police Service (QPS) itself, which told the newspaper that it had no intention of reducing the use of covert cameras.

As the QPS’s own website points out, there’s no law that compels officers to use any signage to notify drivers of a speed camera. In fact, it notes that its own manual instructs that signs can be placed between 5 metres and 30 metres after the camera, just to give motorists a double-warning to step on the brakes, not to prevent them from being ticketed.

Drivers can, however, find out where the 3,500 active, approved mobile speed camera sites are placed around the state.

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According to the Cars Guide site, New South Wales tends not to use covert, mobile cameras, but Victoria certainly does, as does South Australia. Tasmania has mostly fixed cameras, while Western Australia has both. It didn’t give rundowns of the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory.

Drivers, as usual, had mixed feelings about them when commenting on the Cars Guide story.

“They keep peddling this line about ‘speed kills’. It has been proven time and again that the real agenda is revenue raising,” commenter Rod Homan wrote. “Pretty much every Australian knows this yet we hear the same old tripe dished out endlessly by the authorities whose job is to preserve this ‘cash cow’ at all costs.”

“For the often repeated line that it is not about revenue raising to have any credibility, every cent raised from speed cameras should be directed into improving roads and driver education. Maybe then, motorists might take them seriously,” Ron Gambol added.

Do you believe hidden, mobile speed cameras reduce accidents or do you see them as primarily a revenue-raising mechanism for state governments?