More than $150,000 in Ngauranga Gorge speed camera fines cancelled
Police have had to cancel more than $150,000 in speeding fines, after a daylight saving error in one of Wellington's new hi-tech cameras went unnoticed for over a month.
The static speed camera in Ngauranga Gorge was one of the first to go live last year in a $10 million nationwide project that touted the cameras as "smart" and "state-of-the-art".
But the Ngauranga one turned out to be not so clever after all. It is now subject to human monitoring every day after it switched time to mark the end of daylight saving – and then switched back again the next day.
Police were not aware of the error, but drivers began to notice the wrong time-stamps on their speeding tickets.
Members of the public first alerted police on May 4 that that there was a problem with tickets from the gorge camera, which monitors an 80kmh section of State Highway 1 north of Wellington city.
Police discovered the camera had updated itself, as it was supposed to do, when daylight saving ended on April 5. But the next day it reset itself to the original time.
That meant the time-stamps on 1778 photos of speeding vehicles snapped between April 5 and May 8, amounting to fines of $151,880, were wrong by one hour.
Police have moved to refund 473 drivers who have already paid their fines, and the rest have been cancelled.
The debacle has prompted police to check all the new cameras nationwide and to begin monitoring them. However, they found the Ngauranga Gorge camera was the only one affected.
Wellingtonian Peter Johnston received a $30 fine in the mail on his birthday, which he labelled a "nice little present from the Government".
"I was thinking, 'That's a real downer to get a speeding fine on your birthday'."
So he was pleased to get another letter from police on May 13 cancelling his fine. "I guess I benefited from their mistake."
Assistant commissioner for road policing Dave Cliff said the majority of the cancelled tickets were for speeds ranging between 4kmh and 20kmh over the limit, attracting fines between $30 and $120.
"As soon as police became aware of the problem, we've advised those affected and fixed it. We've also moved to refund anyone who paid a fine after being ticketed incorrectly.
"In addition to a thorough assessment by the camera manufacturers, a process is also in place to ensure notices issued are monitored on a daily basis so that any future issues are identified as quickly as possible," he said.
"It's a priority for police that all the notices we issue are fair, accurate and correct. Therefore it was an easy decision for us to waive these notices and refund anyone who has already paid."
He called the error a "temporary technical glitch", and said road users could be reassured that all police speed detection equipment, including cameras, radars and lasers, was tested and calibrated to the highest international standards.
Porirua lawyer Chris Ellis, who got a $35 speeding ticket thrown out on a technicality in August last year, said it was a problem that the law placed the onus on people contesting their fines to prove an error in photos from speed cameras.
He successfully argued that police zooming in on the photo of his car so that his numberplate could be read amounted to evidence manipulation.
He felt it was fair that police cancelled the incorrect gorge tickets, rather than waiting for people to challenge the fines.
"They obviously decided that there were so many people aware of the glitch ... they have taken the step to put things right, and I think I would commend them for that."