There’s a lively discussion over at Kiwiblog on police ticket quotas. The Herald reports on a leaked email from Waitemata Superintendent John Kelly that sets out ticket targets for his district’s highway patrol officers. Now this is unlikely to come as a surprise to most of us. After all, speed trap vans are often placed at the end of overtaking lanes and on straight stretches of road, where people are likely to be overtaking – and speeding. You rarely see these same vans at the end of wide curves, where speeding is really dangerous.
I remember driving between Tirau and Cambridge on State Highway 1. There is a long stretch of dual carriageway about halfway between. Multiple vehicles were overtaking a long, double-trailered truck at about 115kph, when the lead car spotted a radar van at the end of the section, a kilometer away. Suddenly he slowed down to 95kph and crawled past the truck, using up the rest of the dual carriageway. The vehicle behind managed to sneak through, just in front of the truck. The third vehicle was trapped in front of a fourth vehicle who managed to slip in behind the truck. The third vehicle was forced into the oncoming traffic lane briefly, before managing to squeeze behind the truck. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic.
Regardless of whether you think the cause of this spectacularly dangerous piece of driving was the lead car or the speed check van, there is no doubt that this episode would not have happened if the radar van had not been there. As this piece of roadway is inherently very safe, regardless of speed, one can only assume that the van was their to generate income, rather than increase safety.
This brings me to my point. Whether you are using the number of tickets as a metric for assessing performance or as a quota does not matter, the very act of counting the number of tickets (as opposed to accident rates or fatalities) says that you are not so much interested in road safety as in traffic enforcement. Enforcing a law rather than meeting the law’s intention simply makes everyone resent the law. There are so many speeders on the road because it is not about safety, but about putting one over on the cops. It is a game. And a game with deadly consequences. If you really want to slow people down, you have to be seen to be concerned with safety, not enforcement.
If the police truly wished to reduce traffic accidents, they would patrol accident black spots. A single police car traveling up and down through a dangerous section of road would do a great deal more than a speed trap van at the end of an overtaking lane. Of course, they wouldn’t generate any income this way, but it was never about the money, was it?