Monday, May 09, 2005

Steve Bracks Grabbing Money


The article in "The Age" was headlined "Bracks focus on 78 deadly intersections". The content of the article was correctly suspicious of this move by the government, whose own budget predictions estimate that earnings from road fines will increase by 30% or $324 million dollars next year. HOLY CRAP! That's a lot of money.

As always, it's hard to complain about increased road fines. People are only fined for taking dangerous actions, and so discouraging them is certainly a Good Thing. However, there is a lack of subtlety to this. Why? Because they can be encouraged to take dangerous actions in ways which don't lend themselves to budgetary reports - such as poor road conditions, congested roads, poor on-roads and merging strategies etc.

So who is right and who is wrong? The short version: installing the cameras is a good thing, but the government is being two-faced in not also addressing the other side of the problem.

There are two telling statistics which show this is the right thing to do.

One: Half of all casualty-causing crashes occur at urban intersections, accounting for a quarter of the road toll.
Two: Although the road toll across the board has fallen, this is not true of intersections.

This tells us we have a problem to fix, and that intersections are a significant part of the total. The problem is that many underlying reasons why people choose to run red lights are real problems. Think of it like raising the price of cigarettes. If people still want cigarettes, many people will still buy them, even in full knowledge of the risks. Even though dangerous behavious at intersections may carry an increased cost, the problem will not just go away.

This is a "stick-only" solution of the kind so favoured by the government. They get more money, it looks like they are doing their best, but in reality they are happily cashing in on a cheap and second-best solution.

To genuinely address the problem, the government need an appropriately funded infrastructure change program, which has as part of its remit improving the safety aspects of driving conditions.



Blogger Bill Cooper said...

What you say is true but only part of the story, many other countries have less drastic enforcement of road laws but have lower accident rates (per 1000k travelled) than us, why? Driver training and attitudes. The biggest crock is the Monash Uni road accicdent dept, they use dodgy statistics to push their views eg, the 5k over doubles your chance of an accident -crap. If it is true then aren't the current limits way to high, if a 3kph tolerance is all that is allowed, surely the limits should be set lower so we can travel at a safe speed with a big margin of error? We don't need overseas stats, look at Australian stats and it will be seen that other states with far less oppressive laws have better per 1000km accident rate stats than Viv. The NT on some roads has no fixed limit and compare favourably to Vic.

5/09/2005 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Spot on Bill. I'm not a road expert, and so I wasn't trying to address a solution to *this problem* but rather highlight where the bad thinking comes into play.

There is an intuition that people have that increasing fines is just a money grab, but it's not obvious immediately what the whole story is.

A specific solution will basically involve a lengthier cost-benefit analysis of each of the options, but that hasn't been done here. The government aren't applying fines "because they've analysed it as the most effective way to save lives" but because it was somebody's idea that, well, just seemed like a good idea.

In order to object seriously, one needs to be armed with the arguments to show why it's an empty gesture to merely increase fines.

Your added facts only bring weight to the suggestion that there are a range of alternatives which have not been properly selected from, which itself points to revenue raising as being the primary *motivation*.

With an additional $324 million, you would think they could at least *going forward* afford to investigate some of these options, in a manner transparent to the public.

5/09/2005 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

How much funding does Monash Uni's Road Accident Department get from Bracks every year?

5/10/2005 06:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Toby Fothergill said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head, Joel. The willingness for Monash road research to play the government's game is most likely guaranteeing them a steady flow of funding. Driver training in all states is sub-standard on a world scale, forget skid control, many people can't even parallel park! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a greater contributor to the road toll than those doing 3km/h over the limit. I'm sure if I brought this up in a public debate, I'd be accused of not caring... not so. Speed is not simply a black and white issue.

In the U.S. highway speed limits were raised from 55mph to 70mph (an increase of 25kph) which would have increased the risk of a fatality 32 times (2x2x2x2x2) according to the rubbish Monash would have you buy into. Lo and behold, the road toll went down, significantly. People were staying awake. Steve Bracks enforcing an 80km/h speed limit on the Geelong freeway was criminal in my mind as it is such a straight, boring road... you'll help people by changing the scenery faster and getting them off it quicker.

Mr. Bracks et al. I implore you! Have some sense and take a more balanced approach PLEASE!

12/10/2005 06:20:00 PM  

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