ON THE ROAD

The Kauri speed camera site is back in the news again. This is the speed camera which was installed in January last year at the junction of Saleyards Rd and State Highway 1, north of Whangarei.

In its first six months of operation it generated $2.6 million in fines, the highest by far in the country. The figures for the full year to December 31 were made available recently. The total number of speeding tickets issued is just under 47,000, generating infringement revenue of $4.6m, again the most prolific site in New Zealand.

This is an 80km/h speed zone which comes off a 100km/h zone from the north and a 60km/h zone from the south. It would be interesting to identify which direction most of the tickets come from as both ends of the 80km/h stretch have passing lanes preceding them. I would suggest that it is mostly southbound drivers who are being pinged.

The 80km/h speed limit over this 1.5km stretch was installed about three years ago as a consequence of crash history and the relative look and feel of the surrounding environment. The new speed limit was appropriately consulted with partners including NZAA.

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In many respects the choice of 80km/h against the previous 100km/h, was almost a "finger in the wind" exercise, 100km/h was too fast but 90km/h was not available, so 80km/h it became.

In agreeing to the 80km/h limit the AA was also expecting the new limit would be well signalled with appropriate warning signage, and there was also some undertaking of an engineering upgrade. The new speed limit should be about the safety of the road rather than becoming a "fishing hole" for speeding drivers.

We could just say "Speed is speed, there is the speed limit for the road and if you are caught exceeding it, then that is your problem". But if drivers are caught speeding to this extent, then that is a symptom of an issue that needs addressing.

We need to look a bit deeper at the numbers that the speed camera has generated and identify how this speed behaviour fits into the psyche of the average driver.

The average level of fine for the 47,000 tickets issued for the last 12 months was just over $100. This indicates to me that when you take into account the built in tolerance of both, the speed camera and the car speedometer, then the average speeding drivers speedo will be reading in excess of 110km/h through that area.

So, you could say that is a fair cop! But really it should not continue to be like that. Getting a ticket in the mail two weeks after the event is not the best way to change driver behaviour.

It is just not acceptable to have a single speed camera continuing to generate the level of revenue that the Kauri site does without some change. Long term, some engineering upgrade is needed. Short term though, drivers need some warning about the speeding danger on the road and a sign that "This is a speed camera operating area".

Most drivers do not note changes in the speed limits unless the road itself, or a sign beside the road, tells them about it. So, warning signs give drivers a chance to check their speed, and it's about just playing fair.

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Drivers base their decision on what speed to travel on a combination of the posted speed limit and the look and feel of the environmental speed of the road. The obvious threat of enhanced enforcement is part of that environment to which most drivers respond by reducing speed.

This weekend there will be more vehicles on the road - a good enough reason to keep speed in check.

■ John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.