Way back in 2009, I was doing the advance survey (timing, between venues etc) setting out a Renault car club run to Queenscliff. I had my good wife with me and she compiled and checked the timings and the whole run was done on cruise control to ensure that no one needed to breach any speed limits and there was adequate time for re-grouping and sight seeing en-route.
The Renault Laguna has a digital readout on its cruise setting and it rigorously maintains the set speed. On the Highway we set the speed at 100 on the digital readout, as I knew that the actual speedo was over-reading by at least 3 kilometers. I'd given the speedo a cursory check to ensure it was at least within that safety margin after fitting new tyres some three months or more prior, so we knew this was a reasonable be-safe and below the speed limit margin for the run.
Geelong Road is notorious for the number of fixed speed cameras on that excellent and mostly four lane highway.
My wife and I have a system of the driver reading off the digital reading and the passenger affirming that reading by sighting the digital readout (that system arose from years ago in questioning a slant camera reading in quite questionable circumstances - more on that later!!) suffice to say here we both affirm speeds on the cruise control settings especially on camera infested highways!
After setting out the run, we went to a friends house at Geelong and later left for the return trip to Melbourne, we set the same return digital speed on the cruise control and confident that the most we would be doing would be 97 or less. Just after we passed under the Avalon overpass, we were rather amazed and amused that the "Advisory speed check sign" that indicated our speed at 98 - we commented to each other that this was the first time the advisory sign had been close to our intended speed setting as they are usually all over the place and for our car invariably show a 3 to 5 km speed below what we were doing. We have never modified our driving speeds to the signs and we know they are notoriously inaccurate.
But for those that know me, they also know that this error causes me great concern for its propensity to encourage drivers, especially interstate strangers or visitors to our state to adjust speed accordingly and likely get fined for doing so. My Road Safety Council wrote to the Premier of the day Steve Bracks about providing more accurate speed checks to assist motorists at the time they were proposing to eliminate the discretionary tolerance that existed before the camera fine was applied. He refused to do so of course, it was up to motorists to ensure their speedo's were correct and the signs were later marked "advisory" due to the high ratio of motorist complaints.
I do my best to stay within posted speed limits and have been happy with the Laguna's speedo's marginal error, to keep me free of any infringements - let others contribute, I certainly don't want to!
Imagine my horror when 18 days later I got an infringement in the mail alleging that as I passed under the Avalon Bridge, my speed was checked and verified at 108 kph by the Redflex camera mounted on that bridge. It really rocked me even though I felt it was impossible given the checks I had made and the care I had taken to be well within the posted highway speed of 100 kmp.
Had the cruise failed, had the cruise surged, or some other electronic gremlin upset its former reliability? We always do a progressive speedo log of the kilometers and time and dates of travel dating back to when were first got the car, so it is useful to go back and check the times and dates when we had passed other known speed camera locations. My concern of course is that with our heavy reliance on the cruise control to maintain steady speeds within limits, if it was not accurate, then how many fines were in the post - On Geelong Road on the same setting we had passed at least five other camera locations on that side of the road and the same on the other on the way down.
On the actual day of the run later that month, though my initial checks hadn't thrown up any logical reason to doubt the speedo. Just in case I set it four km lower (two clicks on the cruise) on the digital setting. Well I was the classic slow driver that held up all the traffic, even the tanker trucks shot past me both ways along with all other traffic, including government cars!! The advisory sign this time showed 92 kph!
I wrote a letter to the Traffic Camera Office advising them of the car being on cruise control and asked if they would please check the other cameras and also against the time and distance alternative measurement standard, that Mr Holding had publically declared would be checked and confirmed BEFORE any infringements were issued to motorists. I also advised times and dates that I had also passed speed cameras on the Craigieburn bypass for speed and time/distance checks to confirm the accuracy of the cruise control.
I felt sure that if those checks were carried out the other nine or more camera's would confirm the cruise control reading or if it was my speedo at fault the redflex camera reading. Mr Holdings declaration that the public could have confidence in the Geelong Road Speed camera due to the multiple checking equipment, was given on the ABC almost 12 months before when serious questions had been raised as to the accuracy of some of the cameras. So I was pretty confident that any cursory check of camera records and speed measuring equipment would confirm my account.
I was aware that the method of alternative measurement was by both optical and triggering electronic loops set into the roadway, this optical device was similar in concept to the equipment used to check the notorious ring road camera. I was confident that the double checking system as mentioned by Mr Holding was in place as a former colleague had mentioned to me that literally hundreds and hundreds of Redflex speed camera prosecutions had been abandoned when the radar reading was not confirmed by the optical measuring device.
Imagine my surprise when I got a form letter back from the Traffic Camera Office (TCO) advising that they considered their cameras to be operating correctly, so either pay the fine or go to court, and by the way you have no further right to any appeal process - i.e. by an administrative stroke of the pen removing any right to make any further approaches to dispute the matter. No word about any checks or even if they had looked at the camera records in their possession.
Then started the long grueling process of courts, with numerous trips to Geelong waiting for the matter to be listed for a "contested hearing" I defended myself as I know that otherwise as the matter drags through court adjournments, you keep adding defence counsel costs which mount up to far more than the initial speed fine, leading many to abandon their case and pay whatever the court then proposes under a "guilty with an explanation" plea. My reasoning for sticking it out was that I wasn't guilty so how could I plea guilty!!
It was explained to me by the courts that the full onus of proving the camera was not operating correctly was on me, even though I had no access the vital records that could prove me innocent!! The court HAD to take judicial notice of the certificates that in law prima facie proved that the camera was operating correctly - reversed onus of proof.
The trouble for me was that the alleged speed photograph supplied was simply an after dark black Square with a barely visible reflection of the front number plate of the vehicle, and the two headlights of the car, there were no reference points, or any way of discerning if there was any object or anomaly that could be responsible for the false reading of 108
At one of the listed hearing I served a notice requesting the Police to supply further and better particulars of the offence as the all black official photograph showed nothing and there was not even a second photograph to gauge distance travelled between photographs. I had been administratively denied natural justice so prevented from making another approach to the authorities to obtain details of the second measuring device that Mr Holding had assured motorists would be checked prior to an infringement being issued. This vital information that could prove my innocence was in the hands of the prosecuting authority and if available should be supplied. I asked that the court compel the production of the time and distance checking done to verify prosecution.
This caused quite a flurry as the Prosecutors had certainly heard that Mr Holding has given this guarantee, but from their enquiries there was either no such equipment or if there was it was not operating and therefore not available, there was some conjecture if the facility was or was not available or had been turned off. Not only that, it seems that the police do not hold any records, these are all in the possession of the Justice Department. so that meant dealing with another layer of bureaocracy and subpoenas would have to be issued. I supplied a long list of information that I considered should be available and in the hands of that third party. Information vital to my defence.
I was surprised that Mr Holding's much vaunted confidence in the camera booster was not available for this site. Frankly I smelt a RAT!! I was told that another motorists by the name of F..... had issued subpoenas for release and this was currently being contested at Geelong Court, he was represented by a Barrister and the Justice Department had also hired a Barrister to oppose the release of any documents. I was advised that before issuing a subpoena on the Justice Departments it would be wise to see the arguments unfold at that case and only go for documents that were either agreed for release or court ordered. I should also get my cruise control checked by Renault or some other body.
By this time I had done a stop watch check of my car while at cruise control set on the digital setting of 100, this stop watch check is done between the numbered kilometer posts erected on the side of most highways. At 100 kilometer its takes 36 seconds to travel one kilometer. My check consistently showed 38 seconds at 100.
There is a simple conversion site on the internet where you can feed in the time and the speed and it gives you the corrected speed. For mine it was just over 94 kph.
I photographed a re-creation of the drive that night under cruise control with myself in the passenger position and my wife driving the Laguna, the photographs show that the digital readout is clearly visible to the passenger to check the speed reading given by the driver. By now I was very confident of the veracity of the speedo, so the re-creation was done at 100 digital under all the cameras Melbourne bound, the digital camera gave accurate timings for distance traveled between camera sites, that I also logged on our running sheet for the test.
The camera shots show the consistent needle position steady on 100, and the digital reading confirming 100 on that readout. I also took pictures of all the vehicles that overtook mine. Unfortunately the "Advisory Speed check sign" was not working on the day I did the test and hasn't been seen to work on the times I have since traveled back from Geelong. (I note the Hume Highway Advisory sign has been out of action for months with black plastic covering the speed check sign - hardly fair to motorists, but then they are notoriously inaccurate!!)
I printed out this colour series in triplicate for presentation at any subsequent court hearing (Magistrate, Prosecutor, Defence), I also made a careful examination of the Avalon Bridge on which the speed camera array is mounted. While I was doing this I photographed a number of heavy articulated trucks conveying quarried material crossing the bridge.
The bridge is of pre stressed concrete construction with a single pylon supporting it erected in the central plantation. this is a long span over the multiple laned highway, while I was there I noted that the continual pounding of the truck wheels had caused the surface of the road to drop away from the concrete of the bridge 100mm or more, and signs that it had previously been built up, but pounded down from the heavy traffic, (Geelong side) the Melbourne side had a steel toothed style plate, probably to prevent similar movement, though it seems to indicate twisting of the structure. there is also a red arrow survey mark on the side of the central Pylon that could indicate authorities are checking the movement of this pylon.
I took photographs of the approach from Geelong in the direction I would have been traveling on the night, there are wiring loops on the roadway and all connected to a central point, and there does appear to be provision for an optical measuring device on the central plantation in a small concrete bunker. I wonder if it was deliberately turned off because it disagreed with the radar readings.
On the matter of radar, I am aware of limitations and interference that can be caused to radar reading where they are totally relied upon. Avalon airport is close by, and radar reflections can emanate from aircraft depending upon atmospheric conditions among other things. There is also a small pole mounted transformer on the side of the road adjacent to the attenuated road loops. Transformers are a known source of stray Electro Magnetic Interference. On the Melbourne side of the road bridge there is a large radio antennae mounted on a building. I also noted that Telstra have a large communications tower located on the Melbourne Geelong side of the highway on the Melbourne side of the bridge, its next counterpart is located nearer Geelong, but on the opposite side of the highway and there is a direct line of sight diagonal path immediately over the Avalon Bridge camera site.
At the corner of the Avalon airport site not far from the bridge on the Geelong side there is a large pole mounted antennae array, though I could not pick if it was UHF or some other frequency from its construction, so plenty of potential for stray radio and other frequency interference.
While I could potentially suggest these factors might introduce errors, I doubt if I could prove anything for court purposes unless an expensive interference survey was carried out - that should have been done anyway as these are known problems that should have been investigated. It was possible that I could access those procedures under subpoena, but a long involved process. The F..... case was being continually adjourned so costing the client heaps in barristers fees.
My other problem was to better show the actual road speed under cruise control rather than just simply get a speedometer accuracy test - Howard instruments in Heidelberg West. I already had the stop watch tests but road speed would require a dynamometer test on an ISO standard test.
I rang through to Melbourne University who I knew had been doing some industry checks and they referred me to the Ford Testing Facility at Geelong but warned me it would be "expensive" (This is where wives start saying you should have just paid the fine and saved all the emotion and expense) and yes I guess that at times in this saga I have been sorely tempted, but my sense of right and justice, goes against such capitulation to save money..!!
I finally got the car in for testing and handed the car over to Martin Thurkettle, a wonderful man a fine example of the efficiency and courtesy of the Ford staff at that facility. I explained that for court purposes I needed to have not only the certified test, but something to show the actual digital and speedo reading at 100.
Later I received a photo capable of proving that from their instruments. Their courtesy and professional attitude and attention to the test was outstanding and showed that indeed that at 100 digital setting the road speed was just over 94 kph. I'll try and later show the photo taken during the test to show exact speed. What is does confirm is that the many stopwatch checks I made and the internet conversion was also accurate, and should have been accurate enough for court purposes to refute the alleged reading.
I went to Geelong Court still hoping to get the result of the other case, but again it was adjourned and I was heartily sick of the whole thing so decided to have the matter heard then and there. I elected to defend myself and give evidence on oath, and had my wife ready to confirm on oath the observed digital reading on the day. After I gave my evidence and was cross examined by the prosecutor who explored with me the possibility that I might have sped up or the cruise may not have performed correctly, and I produced my photographs and the ISO certified test result from Ford.
At the conclusion to my testimony, the magistrate asked if the prosecutor wanted to cross examine my wife on my evidence, the prosecutor did not, and the magistrate announced that he was satisfied with the evidence produced and did not accept the prima facie contention the camera reading was a true indication of my speed on that night.
I asked for and was awarded costs against the prosecution to defray my expenditure to prove my innocence and the magistrate agreed to award $1600 costs against the Chief Commissioner of Police. This was something I would never have envisaged in the past, as in my day we would have as a matter of procedure checked and cross checked that equipment was working and undertaken any checks asked to verify, rather than trying to bluster through and either convict the innocent or make it so hard with the stress of the process that the ordinary and law abiding motorist simply gives in and pays the fine and puts it down to experience. That is not a Justice system, its thuggery and certainly has nothing to do with Road Safety!!
The prosecution asked for three months to pay the costs, but the magistrate refused that request as his reasoning was why should I be out of pocket a moment longer! Well after time passed, I enquired and found the Police paid just three months after but to the Justice Department. I tried to chase up the Justice Department but they took weeks more to pay the cheque. All in all, this whole exercise left a nasty taste in my mouth. Most of all was the realisation that IF the Traffic Camera Office had done as I asked and checked even the other camera readings, they would have found this error. But what about all the other motorists that were not in a position to remember what speed or the exact circumstances of their driving and so paid up regardless. HOW MANY OTHER JUST PAID!!
And who would do at least the minimum to ensure that motorists are not ripped off by faulty camera, and in that I am mindful of many other motorists who have complained about 108 kph readings from bridge mounted camera's on Eastlink while they were on cruise control and the completely unethical response of the TCO police spokesperson who appeared on Television stating he was confident their cameras were accurate, so those complaining had only two options, pay up or go to court.
Well I have been through that long stressful journey, its not something that I would automatically tell others to do. I have always believed in Justice, and that truth will be found by the system. Unfortunately the way the speed camera system is biased and protected, it is a brave Magistrate that will go out on a limb and go against that Government protected REVENUE system.
For that reason I wrote to the Victorian Ombudsman and made a complaint. At the moment that complaint is unresolved as shortly after I returned from Tasmania I received a call indicating that I should write to the head of the TCO and they would review the matter, have a look at it again. Now that infuriates me when the investigator will not investigate the Redflex Camera system, You have to ask why not - is the Ombudsman too worried at the consequences, after all it reaps 800 or 900 million dollars of revenue into the coffers of the Victorian State Government. Where is the doing your duty without fear and favour as I swore to do when I served the laws of the legislature on behalf of the Victorian Community - of the public and for the public.
I am still not happy and on return from my recent overseas visit to the UK and Sweden I saw the chaos of the UK camera infestation, and the same questions as to accuracy and the same tripe served up about road safety, but there at least some cameras are being scrapped and the system reviewed as there is no proof of the much vaunted safety aspect, and in fact some to the contrary. Driving is not pleasant anymore and the idiots seem determined to flout the system, while the Mr and Mrs average motorist bear the cost. Then on reading the old newspapers I find that the Craigieburn Redflex time based camera system got out of synch - where is the audit system!!
I do agree that the presence of cameras, do encourage the law abiding among us to slow to more orderly speeds and that is as far as it goes, the non law abiding love the absence of uniformed police on our roads and take advantage as smarties whenever they can - just drive our roads every day and see what is happening out there.
Now my challenge to the politicians - if those cameras are so accurate as you seem to keep saying, then put visual readouts on them so that motorists can see at the time, then and there, the alleged reading, not 18 days to a month later - that is neither justice nor is proper law enforcement. A motorist should know at the time what he is alleged to have done - this in the circumstances is the best and continuous audit system as if the machines break down and give false readings a thousand motorists will alert you to the problem.
Will post up the photographs progressively - Its a long post but worth it to dissipate the anger that I feel with a law enforcement and justice system that has lost its way - good to get it off the chest.