Editorial: the speed camera – saviour of lives or money machine?

PHOTO: Urmas Nemvalts

While on its website Police and Border Guard Board explicitly calls speed cameras saviours of lives, they might as well explain themselves to public at large.

When things come down to road safety, effectiveness of surveillance is of utmost importance; and, naturally, in the world on today this comes with technology attached. To understand that, one needs not be a rocket scientist. We’re road users all of us; most of us having driving licences in our back pockets means a remarkable share of citizens has passed some kind of traffic training. Thus, why underestimate the audience? 

The initial speed cameras appeared at Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa highway, in November 2009. The data on effects of the said cameras, so far, is largely limited to statistics of lowered speeds within areas covered by cameras, and adding up the fine-money. It’s easy to highlight last year’s 60,696 traffic offences spotted. And that, with all things automatic, human resources were used someplace else. This, however, is no way to answer the question: how much safer is the traffic, thanks to cameras? The last year but one, a scientific research reached the public revealing that after cameras were installed, the average speed on Tallinn-Tartu highway has up and increased.

Thus, for the public, the speed cameras tend to come across as money machines, not necessarily regarded as items improving road safety. Regarding broader assessments, state representatives have remained cautious, telling us the impact can be judged long-term only. Meanwhile, new cameras keep popping up, swallowing hundreds of thousands of euros.

The national road traffic safety programme, ratified in 2003 and, thereafter, repeatedly upgraded, prescribes that in 2015 Estonia will not lose over a 100 lives in traffic. Over the past five years, this has also been achieved (except for 2011, with 101 traffic deaths); last year, the death toll was 83. Even so, the milestone has been reached by multiple factors adding up; surely, this also happened thanks to safer cars, rebuilt intersections, traffic campaigns etc – role of speed cameras has not been clearly specified.

Pursuant to EU road safety plan, by 2020 Estonian traffic deaths ought not to exceed 39 people. Though the goal looks hard to achieve, it’s worthwhile trying. For that, we would surely need more specific research, so every euro invested into road safety would yield maximum results.

Also, why don’t we remember the late legendary traffic instructor Johannes Pirita, always emphasising that in traffic supervision, the human being – a traffic cop – will ever be central. Today, driverless vehicles are sci-fi no more; even so, till we have humans, mainly, at the wheels, the traffic environment needs to be basically brains-governed. Automatics are mere helper.