Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tunnel Vision

ON 3AW at the moment, Neil Mitchell is wondering what to do about the Burnley Tunnel, and while this is a topic of prime interest only to those blessed to reside in Melbourne, the normally acute radio host's inability to recognise the real problem provides a more general lesson in the consequences of elevating preconception above evidence.

For those not from Melbourne, the issue is how to improve safety. Several years ago, an horrific accident sparked a fire and cost three people their lives. Near misses are regular events, and the authorities have made it clear that they do not like drivers changing lanes. Mitchell also sees lane-changing as a danger -- and he is right, but only in part.

Simply put, it is very hard to change lanes when you cannot go faster than the car you seek to overtake, and thanks to Victoria's speed/revenue cameras, drivers live in fear of being just a few all-but-imperceptible clicks over the limit. Exceed the posted speed by as little as 5km and you can expect a $170 fine in the mail. The Shakedown State is unyielding on the matter of speed, as a friend of Young Master Bunyip came to understand when he lost his licence and was hit with some $700+ in fines as a consequence of a single tunnel transit. The speedo on his motorbike was broken and each of the tunnel's cameras pinged and fined him as he went past.

The result is that drivers watch their speedos, not the car in front, on the tunnel's downslope. For truckies this is a nightmare. A driver with a heavy load has to stand on the brakes all the way to the bottom of the incline. On the ascent, having bled off all speed and momentum on the way down, it is a low-gear crawl up the slope to the light of day. Stuck behind a rig going nowhere fast, other drivers change lanes. And since those maneuvres begin at a low speed, they must hope no faster vehicle collects them as they do so.

And there is the bigger danger borne of the tunnel's revenue cameras. If one is heading east and aiming for the Richmond ramp, the first after the tunnel's exit, there is no choice but to change lanes. Drivers enter at the City end in the extreme right lane and must get into the extreme left lane if they are not to make the ramp. Miss it and the next exit is Toorak Road, miles down the track.

Try changing lanes with one foot on the brake. It is about as difficult -- and hazardous -- an operation as might be imagined. Watch the brake lights coming on in the video below, and also imagine you are the driver of the little silver car and need to get across to the Richmond exit.

The obvious solution would be to relax the tunnel's speed limits to permit brief burst of acceleration as circumstances and good sense dictate. Obvious, no?

Ah, but not in Victoria, where a vast, fine-funded bureacratic machine has been assembled to preach the gospel that it is speed, and speed alone, which is the threat to life and safety on the road. The Traffic Accident Commission is so awash with cash it sponsors jazz festivals and, more annoying, advertising agencies churning infuriating "public service" announcements about the need for everyone to drive 5kph slower. The logic of those ads ignores the laws of physics and makes no allowance for the shape, mass and design of the many different cars on our roads. But every night they go to air, laying guilt trips on blameless viewers in the name of saving lives.

What those ads really aim to protect is the bureaucrats' and state government's excessive access to drivers' pockets.

If the authorities want to see a safer tunnel, they should rip out the speed cameras without delay. That won't happen, of course, not with all that lovely fine revenue pouring in at a rate of better than a million dollars a day.


  1. We will no longer do a driving holiday in Victoria as it's impossible to escape without a fine (if you actually 'drive', rather than watch an on-board tv called the 'speedo').
    Same with the motorbikes. Forget about riding down to the island to watch Stoner clean up the other chumps. It's just not worth the stress or the expense. And this in the State with the best rural roads in the country.
    If the aim of the war on speed is to deter visitors from visiting, then the war is being won.
    Mind you, the NSW guvment has now seen the light.

  2. We have been brainwashed into thinking that 'speeding' is an absolute concept. In fact it's not - it's nothing but a legal construct. If the speed limit was 500km/h, 'speeding' wouldn't be possible. But driving dangerously certainly would still be possible.
    The 'speed limit' is a behavioural barrier within which the average driver is supposedly likely to be able to maintain control of their vehicle. In our nanny state those legal limits have been set pathetically low, and as a consequence we now have a generation of drivers who have failed to learn to think about the conditions under which they are controlling their vehicle (ie - we let the speed limit decide for us).
    In the 1990's I did a study at uni on accident statistics from the RTA. The single biggest cause of accidents, by far, was inattention. The highest incidence of accidents was rear-enders. Other major causes were inexperience, drink driving, fatigue, and NOT DRIVING TO THE CONDITIONS. Driving over the speed limit barely rated a mention. On rural roads, from memory, excessive speed was a notable contributing factor in fatalities - but combined with other factors, such as the driving conditions.
    I doubt that you'd find those statistics available to the public these days.

    1. Sorry, but this does not make sense. There must be a correlation between, on the one hand, inattention on the part of a driver and the speed of the vehicle, and the likelihood of a collision on the other. And exceeding the speed limit is surely an example of NOT DRIVING TO THE CONDITIONS, given that the speed limit varies according to the conditions. For example, we can I suspect agree that exceeding the limit in a school zone is not driving to the conditions. Sure, it may often be an inexact correlation, but it is not feasible to be more exact. So far as studies go, there was one way back in the 60s which found road traffic offenders were more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour.

      Prof, your point seems to be that road design creates dangerous situations. Yes, it does, but that is not to say that speed limits should be increased. Rather, fix the road.

    2. Strewth. rafiki please try to understand the difference between the reality of driving conditions, and a legislated limit on behaviour. They may not be mutually exclusive, but the intersection point is quite chimeric. Likewise, driving over the speed may, or may not be related to a driver being inattentive of the conditions.

    3. If I am driving down the Western Ring road at 120 kph and there is not another vehicle or person in sight am I driving dangerously. I would suggest not (unless my car can't cope with that speed!). If I am driving down the same stretch of road at 100 kph (the speed limit)and up ahead I can see flashing lights, people milling, etc I should be able to drive through there at 100 kph because that is the speed limit. Am I driving dangerously in this case? Absolutely.

      In other words treating the speed limit as an "absolute" is pure stupidity. Drivers need to be taught to guage road conditions and drive accordingly using the speed limit as a guide. Given that driving conditions change with changing weather conditions, traffic and other considerations, to enforce speed limits in an "absolute" manner can only be considered revenue raising rather than road safety.

      Speeding never killed anybody. Abject stupidity, human error and lack of driving skills certainly do. The only thing here that the government has any control over is driving skills. The sooner they teach drivers to drive rather than "point and shoot" the better off we all will be.

    4. It seems that both anon and furkenburger do not want any legislated limit in behaviour so far as speed is concerned, an anarcho-libertarian standpoint as far removed from a conservatism as that of a barking Trotskyist, and just as likely never to be the accepted. Which is just as well, for speed kills and injures, and what follows is great misery to many (except ambulance chasing lawyers). My simple point is that when a driver acts stupidly, or makes an error, or is inattentive (as we all are at times), then the greater the speed at which the vehicle is travelling at that point, the greater the chance of a collision, and the injuries flowing from the collision. This does not deny furkos point about education.

  3. Of course the government is addicted to the revenue: 1. There is no correlation between the siting of portable and fixed cameras and the location of accident black spots. The prime consideration is revenue potential. 2. Most new fixed speed cameras, as far as I can tell, are now using technology that photographs cars from behind after they have passed, which means the camera can't be detected by traffic prior to be photographed. 3. Brand new roads, such as the Princes Freeway west of Melbourne, is crawling with fixed cameras triggered to go off at 106kph or less; in Europe or the US it would have a 130kph+ speed limit.
    You will find that the same people who argue in favour of speed cameras are collectivists who think personal liberties must be CONTROLLED and that slaughtering the Australian economy with a carbon tax is a good thing, even though it will achieve nothing except higher taxation.

  4. What really pisses me off in these campaigns is the concept that driving my $260,000 German autobahn stormer (which was designed specifically to travel at 250kmh for hours on end) at 65kmh is somehow more dangerous than the clapped out bald-tyred, over-laden, 30 year old tradies ute being driven at 59kmh.
    That my advanced driver training, my track day experience, the 30 years driving experience, and the thousands of kilometres on the aforementioned autobahns leaves me unable to drive safely at 65kmh, but the 18yr old bimbo who texts while driving at 59kmh has nothing to fear from the revenue cameras.

    1. Well, honey, perhaps you should have bought a ute.

    2. Sounds like you need to apply the John Singleton defence.

      Meanwhile maybe speed limits should be means tested?

  5. I hired one of the three people killed in the Burnley Tunnel accident. I know it's not my fault but I keep thinking to this day of the consequences of that decision. He was a good, decent person who was a hard worker and a lot of fun to be around. His loss was a terrible tragedy for his terrific family, friends and colleagues.

    I am known as somewhat of a hoon driver. In spite of my reputation for appearing a bit cavalier on the roads I have never had a traffic accident, having used what I term my roadcraft skills to avoid serious situations. Luck has also played a part, of course. However, in spite of my confidence in my abilities the ONLY place I was ever nervous when I was driving was in the Burnley Tunnel. It is a very scary place for the reasons you outline so well, Prof.

  6. It will not change Professor ,as long as the Big government LABORAL PARTY rule .We need another Henry Bolte to gee up these modern Polywankers.

  7. This false witnessing that speed, even 5 or 10 kmh over the limit, is responsible for accidents, is proved on a daily basis by thousands of drivers. You could say that someone like er, my friend, who regularly goes a bit over the signposted limits should be having about three accidents a week instead of none for twenty years or more.
    If politicians and the police are not to be held in disregard over these fake scares and blatant revenue raisings they need to stop it and target the real culprits, who are more extreme in all facets of driving: higher speeds, abrupt lane changes, running red lights (not just amber-red change point)failure to keep adequate clearance from other cars, plus the old slow-and-don't-know-where-I'm-going people.
    OK, that's three attempts to read those ridiculous letters that are a barrier to commenting. Not much future in this lark prof!

    1. People that sit on 80-90 kph on single lane country highways and get a long line of frustrated drivers behind them are the biggest menace on the roads. If you or your car cannot do 100kph, you shouldn't be licensed/registered.
      At the very least pull over occasionally and let the traffic past.

  8. thefrollickingmoleMarch 8, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Mt copper mate here in Wa shares some office space with the local cockroach (speed camera man)

    He was bragging that one long weekend he snapped 400.
    Lets look at the LEAST amount of money he could have pulled in.
    Double fines on a long weekend $75 becomes $150.
    440 times 150 is $60,000....

    His favourite position is around a "sign farm" area on a new section of road which, to date, hasnt had a major accident yet. Quite easy to miss the sign from 70 down to 60 though.

    My father has a car yard, he is legaly required to keep a log book of all test drivers in case they get a ticket. The fines usually arrive 3 months after the offence.

    Money raising scum.
    (Ps: Never been booked by one)

  9. A good start would be to abolish the Monash Uni Accident research Centre. That is where most of the focus on speed comes from. I'm sure you noticed that the road safety ads on TV over the past few years focus on motorists striking careless pedestrians and how the blame lies with the driver not the person who crossed the road without looking. I'm sure that the goal of Monash (as well as the Pedestrian Council of Australia) is to get the law to treat all drivers as guilty until proved innocent. The recent push by cycling associations to change the onus of proof is the first public step of the campaign.

    I've said before I believe that all laws and regulations where statute is the victim should be removed from the law books. If people cause harm to others let them answer for that not for what they might do. Were not far from thought crime at times.

    I once asked a Highway Patrol member why it is ok to drive on the Western Ring Road at 100kph in the pouring rain in peak hour traffic (terrifying) but dangerous to drive at 140kph at 2:30 am with no others around. He said it was the law and whether it was safe or not was irrelevant.

    1. "Pedestrian Council of Australia"

      Readers may be interested to know the much saught after by media Pedestrian Council of Australia is man.

      "OVER the past five years Harold Scruby, chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, has averaged at least one mention in mainstream media every week. It's a level of coverage that even politicians would struggle to match as Scruby fights for the rights of pedestrians. Scruby's name not only appears regularly in the media (In the past week he has publicised his views on road dangers as various as four-wheel-drives and bicycles) but he is also perhaps the most dedicated complainant to the Advertising Standards Board. "

      "Sources at the ASB suggest Scruby and a small band of supporters are the main reason why car ads last year were the sector that received the most complaints.
      According to information obtained by Media, complaints against car ads largely emanate from just four sources. "These four complainants collectively complained about 53 separate motor vehicle advertisements during 2003," a source at the ASB said. "In most of these cases they were the sole complainants in
      Australia." According to the source, 72 per cent of complaints come from these four sources.

  10. Professor,

    You need a bit of background music for this post. Here you go:

  11. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.March 8, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Lamentably, Prof, that's what happens when they put machines in charge of men (shut up moaners, generic implied here, insert personkind if you must). Machines are not into subtle manoeuvring, such as my friend (called Ahem) is inclined to make, and who suffers from being tooted as a blonde too.

    Thanks for the driving in Melbourne tips, Prof, as I may have to do some of that in a month or so.

    Blogstop, I am inventing a whole new personal language with those clever wasted words that robots cannot read as I too have numerous goes at proving that I am not one. I am getting better at it, but that diminishes the vocabulary. I wish you bmnopL flmoot manawapd today. Toach, everyone.

  12. Bunyip,

    I have a dilemma - I refuse to drive in victoria due to the ridiculous revenue camera rip offs and I also no longer holiday there as well, on principle.

    However, I find myself having to travel to melbourne frequently for work and the taxi drivers there are an absolute disgrace.

    I recently caught a cab from tullamarine to the CBD and have never been so terrified in my life - the taxi driver's habits were down right dangerous and utterly stupid. Add to that the fact that I've been a passenger in no less than two separate taxi accidents over the last two years and you can see where I'm going with this...

    Perhaps it's time I simply banned going to victoria full stop.

  13. Interesting that young master bunyips friend was fined multiple times in one transit. This is an error at law, demostrated by a celebrated NSW case where a driver was fined twice in the space of 2 kilometers by 2 seperate cameras. He argued successfully that he was "speeding" in the first instance and while still speeding in the second he was in the process of undertaking a single offense and could only be fined once. You can't be convicted of mutiple murder for stabbing someone 10 times. Young master bunyips friend has grounds for appeal, based on significant precident. He was not speeding multiple times, just once for an extended period. 1 fine only.

    1. In SA the Cmsr of Police sets a guideline. From memory, speed cameras on a stretch of open highway must be at least 1 km apart. There may be something similar in Vic.

      My client was snapped by cameras 4 km apart. Police refused to accept that it was one continuing offence, and so would not drop one or other of the charges. So, off to Court. It was a car registered to a company; and the company was named as the driver. The Magistrate had never seen a company drive a car. 2 acquittals, and 2 lots of costs against the Police!

  14. Before the 'speed' camera became another government revenue raiser the law allowed for discretion of police in determining what constituted a 'speeding' offence. The officer would be permitted to allow a 10% leeway in the recorded speed he had noted, as compared to the actual speed that was signposted. In other words, if the speed limit was 100kph and the offending vehicle had been clocked at 110kph the officer could allow the vehicle to continue driving at that speed without penalty. Times have changed, and the 'speed' camera is now the new 'silent cop' that once used to adorn our intersections.

    But are 'speed' camera's really a good deterent in reducing the road toll which the police hierarchy and our politicians seem to be constantly wringing their hands over?

    And what constitutes the term 'speeding' 5,10,15,20,30 or 40 kph over the limit? Or should road, driving and weather conditions be the major deciding factor when handing out 'speeding' tickets?

    It may interest the reader to know that it once used to take under 10 minutes to issue a traffic infringement notice. That notice can take up to an hour to complete on the computer system which means the traffic cop has now less time on the road to do his/her job, and as most of us can appreciate, having fully marked Highway Cars cruising up and down freeways is far more effective in reducing collisions than those revenue raising cameras.

    1. I was a member of vicpol and I am unaware of any practice involving the use of a computer when issuing a PIN in Victoria, perhaps you are from another state? Never the less I agree with you.

    2. Traffic Infringement Notices have to be entered onto computer, and generally at the end of each shift. The original infringement notice is issued at the scene, and including the obligatory radio check, usually takes less than ten minutes to complete, while all infringement notices issued during the shift have to be entered onto the computer which involves many different pages of information be recorded. That is where the cop is taken off the street to provide information through a computer system that is linked to many government departments who all want their share of the info. Big Brother is well and truly alive and is killing the effectiveness of the traffic cop.

      It is interesting to note; that prior to the advent of the computer and police being required to enter ALL data onto it, the issuing of an infringement notice had ALL the relevant information required if the traffic violator decided to go to court to contest the 'ticket'. Nothing has changed as far as the 'ticket' is concerned, it is the requirement of 'other' information to be entered onto a computer that keeps the cop in the office and off the streets.

  15. If I were to draw up a list of 10 things I would do to improve Victoria, number one would be the abolition of the TAC.

    Number two would be to find out why the police union always seems to have a stranglehold on the government - and break it

    1. The police association's (union) around the country have become politicized over the years and are now more like industrial trade unions than the police union of old. I am a retired police officer and resigned from the NSW Police Association due to the socialistic attitude that organization is now taking.

  16. I think we're missing the point here... Yes the nanny state of Victoria uses 'speeding' to fill government coffers but the true reason the Burnley and Domain Tunnels are dangerous is the complete lack of emergency lanes on the hard shoulder. I don't know how many accidents could've been avoided if there was just some space to swerve and avoid a potential collision. How this wasn't picked up when reviewing the initial engineering designs absolutely baffles me... The only explanation I can think of was that it would cost too much to put an extra 3m of width into the tunnel. But surely those 3 lives that were lost would have been worth the extra $ it would cost to have the emergency lanes in place. I mean what happens if you break down or blow a tyre?

    1. Your argument could equally apply to those high speed roads where inadequate width shoulders are present. For the sake of saving a few mil, the powers that be put lives at risk when breakdowns occur. Roads are designed to fit within a 'budget' and that is where the problems begin.