19 November 2020

How to stop one of the biggest road killers

Speed limits are one of the most effective weapons in the fight against serious accidents. However, this is true only if the police can effectively check and enforce speeding.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, approximately 1.35 million people die on the roads worldwide as a result of a road accident every year.
There are many reasons for such an alarming number of casualties, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, ignoring seat belts, carelessness behind the wheel and, of course, speeding. With the average speed increased by 1%, the risk of a fatal accident rises by 4% and the risk of a serious accident rises by 3%. At 65 km/h, the probability of a pedestrian being killed when hit by a moving vehicle is up to 4.5 times higher than at 50 km/h.

The weaknesses of fixed radars

Fixed radars have been used for decades to check compliance with speed limits to reduce accidents. Even though their importance is undeniable, it is not easy to quantify exactly how effective they are. For example, in New South Wales, Australia, local police recently reported the benefits of fixed radars by claiming that they had reduced road deaths by up to 80% despite an overall increase in traffic. However, when reading carefully between the lines, it is clear that such a decline is not widespread. It is limited to selected locations where the radars are located. The fact that the geographical impact of static radars on traffic safety is very limited was also confirmed in a study by the Spatial Economics Research Centre. According to the study, the effect is limited mostly to the place where the radar is located. Statistics on the higher incidence of accidents in the cameras’ vicinity suggest that their overall benefits may in fact be lower than what some simplified interpretations claim.

An illustration on how accident outcomes are computed across space. Source: Do Speed Cameras Save Lives? Cheng Keat Tang (SERC), September 2017

In addition, as The Conversation points out by referring to data from the United Kingdom, the use of a stationary radar in some locations may in fact have no effect on the accident rate at all. Statistics indicate that after a short increase in traffic accidents in a certain location, there is a subsequent decrease even if there is no fixed radar installed and no other measures are introduced. In statistics, this phenomenon is known as “regression-to-the-mean” (RTM).

An addition to the equipment

Due to the obvious limitations and disadvantages of static speed cameras, law enforcers in recent years have been equipping themselves with portable radars, which are known as “speed guns”. Their indisputable advantage over fixed radars is the unpredictability of their location. Drivers simply do not know in advance where a patrol will decide to check for speeding, which could positively affect road traffic discipline.
Portable radar technology has gradually improved, eliminating previous measurement inaccuracies. Modern radars are also easier to use. Unlike their predecessors, they do not need to be hand-held during measuring. This is why they are deployed more frequently today than in the past. On the other hand, unlike the fixed radars, they require an operator; the moment of surprise is lost when radio broadcasters or the Waze navigation app informs drivers about a patrol’s location or when drivers alert each other by flashing lights.

The third pillar of control

The possibilities of conducting speeding checks have always been limited, and this will continue to be the case. In the public interest, police should always seek ways of how to check and enforce speed limits more effectively.
The good news is that today, thanks to technological advancement, they have one more weapon available alongside stationary and portable radars. Speed meters installed in police cars (i.e., truly mobile radars) are becoming the third pillar of road safety control. However, their use is still very limited.
Due to their high cost, only a small number of police vehicles are equipped with such radars despite the fact that this technology allows for the speed checking of passing vehicles to take place automatically and continuously, even while driving.
A change could come with the gradual introduction of intelligent vehicles into police vehicle fleets. Adding a speed measurement functionality to a vehicle equipped with modern technologies, including camera systems for automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR), can be up to half as cost-effective as buying a mobile radar for a conventional vehicle.
The importance of speeding checks is unquestionable. However, this is definitely not a trivial task. Given the limitations of both fixed and portable radars, speed measurement by motorized patrols is yet another step in increasing police’s efficiency in combating one of the three biggest causes of road deaths.
Find out more about the benefits and possibilities of mobile speed measurement from within police vehicles.