Police have been forced to waive speeding tickets - losing thousands of dollars in revenue - because their new digital speed cameras are clocking motorists at twice their actual speeds.
A police spokesman has confirmed the new mobile cameras, which were introduced nationally in January at a cost of $4 million, were wrongly clocking the speeds of larger vehicles. Some tickets were issued for twice the vehicles' true speeds.
As a result, police have stopped processing infringement notices for high-sided trucks and buses in effect giving those vehicles temporary immunity from speed camera fines. They have waived at least 133 tickets after complaints, including 10 proven cases of inaccurate readings.
Acting national manager of road policing Inspector Peter McKay dismissed suggestions that tickets for normal-sized cars were also being waived, but admitted staff were scrutinising all photos and readings, particularly from large-sided vehicles.
"If there appears to be any anomalies, we will not process any infringements," he said.
"To ensure no one is disadvantaged, no photos of large flat-sided vehicles typically buses and trucks are being processed at the moment."
Lawyer Tony Ellis said police would need to be certain on technical grounds that the Australian-supplied cameras were correctly measuring speeds, otherwise they would "leave themselves open to a challenge by some enterprising motorist or lawyer. They could bring a challenge on the basis that the cameras are incorrectly calibrated".
He also questioned the police definition of a large vehicle. "What about a van which is between a large vehicle and a car? There does seem room for querying what is going on."
The problems emerged soon after the 43 digital cameras were introduced nationwide in January.
National road policing manager Paula Rose said last December that she expected the new cameras to result in more tickets, and motorists would receive their infringement notices more quickly.
About $36m was collected in speeding fines last year. Mr McKay refused to say how much was being lost through the waivers.
The radar beams from the cameras have been deflected from the sides of large vehicles to nearby metal objects and back doubling the recorded speed.
"It appears initially the cameras were set incorrectly and this has resulted in some incorrect [high] readings," Mr McKay said.
"We are talking about introducing a fairly sophisticated piece of equipment ... it is reasonable to expect some teething issues."
Mr McKay could not say when the problems would be resolved.
There were 536,995 speed camera tickets issued in the 15 months to April 15 more than 25,000 fewer than during the period from January 1, 2007, to April 15 last year.
Road Transport Forum chief executive officer Tony Friedlander was unaware of the speed camera problems.
Bus and Coach Association chief executive Raewyn Bleakley advised her members to be careful if disciplining drivers who had received speeding tickets in recent months because of the uncertainty.
Automobile Association spokesman Simon Lambourne said it was imperative that the problem be sorted out quickly. "If people are speeding, they should be caught."
-$36 million was collected by police and the Justice Department in speeding fines last year.
-The 43 new digital cameras, mounted on the roadside in modified people-mover vehicles, were introduced in January, replacing 31 old mobile, wet film cameras.
-The decision to expand the speed camera programme was part of an attempt to lower the road toll to less than 300 by 2010.
- The Dominion Post