[Skip to content]

Search our Site

ITS World Congress debates perceptions of enforcement

First publishedon www.ITSInternational.com
2012 September October
[ Zoom ]
Grey speed cameras, on road
Enforcement's image problem is acknowledge as a major issue and one that can be tackled with highly reliable systems and concerted publicity campaigns

The technical programme of this year’s ITS World Congress in Vienna includes a special session on the image of enforcement. ITS International examines the scale of the problem and what can be done about it.

Debate on the merits and difficulties of enforcing speed limits appears centred on a conflict of principles. Put very simply, local communities, people living close to busy or hazardous roads, want to see traffic speeds calmed. Drivers on those roads, on the whole, want their principle of freedom to be maintained. Which is the strongest, most just point of view? Is it possible to please both, to achieve a satisfactory balance between the two?

Such questions will be posed at a special technical session at the 2012 ITS World Congress in Vienna in October. ‘A better image for safety enforcement’ is the title of this specific part of the Vienna congress, included within the programme to ensure debate on an important subject. Moderating at the event will be the director of the transport division of  the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Eva Molnar, and it is the UNECE’s report on ‘Intelligent Transport Systems for sustainable mobility’ that provides the background to the Congress session on enforcement.

Speed the main cause

According to the UNECE report, in Europe alone road traffic accidents – ‘the number one policy challenge’ – kill 127,000 people and injure 2.4 million every year, and kill more children and young people from ages five to 29 than any other cause of death. The UNECE report is also one of several to point out that traffic speed is usually the main cause or a major contributory factor – in 60% of all fatalities in Italy, according to Italian police estimates.

Enforcement of speed limit law still has an image problem though, or so it seems. According to a 2012 survey by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (a leading UK road safety charity), 82% of people in the UK now think it is acceptable for authorities to use speed enforcement cameras, but 45% think that raising income is still a main reason for their use. One industry source says that in one or two isolated cases this last view may be right. “One challenge is to ensure everyone is aware of the right reasons for enforcing speed limits, including authorities,” he says.
[ Zoom ]
Vysionics' new SPEC3 portable on road
Vysionics' new SPECS3 Portable Outstation Device allows controllers to be moved between a number of pre-prepared enforcement locations

Emotive subject

This issue of misconception of motivations behind enforcement is an emotive subject for many in the ITS sector, particularly for those that conscientiously invest their time in developing enforcement systems that save lives; forming careers in pursuit of road safety. “This is a very important issue, one that we experience and hear about in many countries,” says Vitronic’s Traffic & Technology Division sales director Daniel Scholz.

“We do not operate enforcement systems, we deliver them to operators, police forces and authorities, and so focus on development of the technology, but we know what our customers tell us – that people, the public, frequently complain about the locations of speed cameras, about being ‘ripped off’.

Campaigns against enforcement are fought on internet forums or on the road. It is common for enforcement vehicles to be attacked in some countries. It’s a massive problem.”

The extent of feelings against, or in favour, of safety enforcement varies from one country to another and from region to region, sometimes very subtly, according to leading enforcement operators and equipment suppliers.

As a member of the Vienna Congress programme committee, Xerox solution director Richard Harris is organising the special session on enforcement.

He says there are two main issues to consider: the effectiveness of the system, particularly the quality of the image captured of offenders for achieving sufficient reliability; and the issue of political and social acceptability.

Blanket is brutal

“On the whole we have managed to make drink driving socially unacceptable, but the case is not the same for excessive speed,” Harris says. “Enforcement efforts are not helped by approaches that show no discretion or flexibility. Application of blanket restrictions a very brutal way of trying to reduce traffic speeds when there are many different processes that can be applied.

[ Zoom ]
Laser speed camera
Use of reliable scanning lasers is allowing automated enforcement in dangerous locations and work zones in the US, with full communication programmes to explain why speed is being enforced
“Speed limits ought to be adaptable and enforcement systems reliable. There is potential for learning from others’ experience here. A very good example, of one of the most successful programmes of speed reduction, is in France. The automated system in use there has effectively moved France from a position of enforcement to one of compliance, with about 12,000 lives saved over a 10 year period, by changing the way people drive on French motorways. Theirs is a very reliable system that offenders cannot wriggle out of.”

France is frequently cited as an example of success. Managing director of enforcement specialist Gatso is Timo Gatsonides. He says: “The reduction in road casualties achieved in France is remarkable and the connection is clear: As the number of enforcement cameras has gone up, the number of fatalities has come down. It is interesting that even with every camera advertised and signposted, some still view it as a money grabbing exercise. Public acceptance remains an issue even in France, but the difference in driver behaviour achieved there is evident to see. Some systems of enforcement have very good public awareness campaigns, but whatever the approach, there will always be some that cannot accept that it’s about safety not money.”

Information invaluable

So what can be done to overcome this negative image? Virtually all in the industry agree that enforcement should be combined with concerted publicity campaigns, but there are subtle differences to how this can be done. According to Gatsonides, a programme running in the United States allows speed penalties to be paid online, at a website which includes information on why enforcement has been implemented at the specific locality where the offence took place. “Local speed reduction initiatives are often successful, as the local knowledge is invaluable in identifying and targeting dangerous locations. We have experienced numerous incidents of local people asking to have cameras installed,” Gatsonides says.

The importance of focusing on dangerous sites (and communicating that with signs explaining why enforcement has been applied) is often repeated. Vitronic’s Daniel Scholz cites another case in the US, where a policy has been set for using automated enforcement only in dangerous locations and work zones with a full communication programme and signs explaining why speed is being enforced. The policy is reported to be achieving a high rate of success. “The scanning laser is very reliable for work zones, enabling authorities to focus enforcement on these dangerous locations, which is generally a more acceptable approach. Explaining the reasons helps gain further acceptance,” Scholz says.

Dynamic limits?

But what about the idea of making enforcement more flexible and speeds more adaptable, as Richard Harris suggests? Should speed limits be set more appropriately or adjusted for the time of day, or in accordance with whether anyone is at work within work zones? Such variability or flexibility could be achieved simply by activating enforcement systems only at certain times of day, says Scholz, or by adjusting the trigger limits of the technology to vary the tolerances on speed limits.
[ Zoom ]
Variable speed sign on motorway
Variable speeds are enforced on motorways in some countries, but views on the feasibility of varying limits on all roads are not clear cut
“This would ensure only the worst offenders are penalised and eradicate one considerable annoyance for drivers: it can be highly frustrating for drivers awarded a speeding fine when caught only slightly over the limit. Making the tolerance significantly greater would make it harder to argue against penalties awarded,” Scholz says. “For adaptable systems it should be remembered that speed enforcement can also be connected to variable message signs (VMS). There is a perception that there are no speed limits on Germany’s autobahns, when in fact, speed limits are set or adjusted depending on the conditions. The reasons for the varied limit are pointed out via VMS.”

Despite the existence of variable speed limits on motorways in some countries – set in response to congestion or conditions – and on principal roads in a number of locations in Sweden, views on the merits of varying limits are not clear cut.

“Technically, varying speed limits and enforcement is easy enough, but combined with the practicalities of required legalities and difficulties with education, it is not necessarily such a good idea,” Timo Gatsonides says.

“Alteration of speed limits at night for reduction of noise pollution may seem a good idea, but in reality this is difficult and introduces issues that make such a measure impractical. If vehicles were caused to travel at many different speeds at different times, it is more likely to create confusion and misunderstanding, and risk losing support gained for enforcement measures.”

Levels of acceptability or support for enforcement are understandably greatest where systems are applied at critical sites such as schools or heavily built-up areas. According to Redflex business development manager for Europe, Lee Davey, average speed enforcement is generally the next most acceptable form, followed by point-speed placing of cameras and lastly, mobile speed enforcement, in the UK at least. “Use of mobile camera vans is effective for catching speeding motorists but gives out a very bad signal of intentions to the public. In the UK operators rarely put up clear signs of the enforcement vehicles’ position and activity, which is unlikely to do much to garner support or encourage change in behaviour.”

Average speed goes portable

Vysionics has introduced an innovation that promises to make its SPECS average speed enforcement systems more readily applicable to a greater number of locations. More than 50 permanent SPECS cameras are in operation around the UK, reducing numbers of people klled or seriously injured by more than 70%, according to Vysionics. One reason SPECS has not been more widely implemented is the cost and complexity needed to install a fully functional site, because equipment is needed along a significant length of road, at a number of locations rather than just at a ‘collision hotspot’.

However, a recent innovation allows the benefits and cost of the technology to be spread across a number of sites, rather than simply addressing the most dangerous locations.  SPECS3 POD (Portable Outstation Device) allows the expensive ‘controllers’ to be moved between a number of pre-prepared enforcement locations. The low cost street furniture (poles and cameras) can cover a much larger area, delivering the very visible impression of average speed enforcement.

SPECS3 is now operated by 18 road safety partnerships in the UK, with a high level of public acceptability, according to Vysionics, because the enforcement locations are very obvious. This removes the argument that safety schemes have been put in to make money – key to being seen as fair and appropriate.

Companies in this article

Institute of Advanced Motorists
ITS World Congress

Share this page

Page Comments