Spare speed cameras: they could save a life

03:15, Sep 21 2012
road accident
IN THE FAST LANE: "Tragedy on the roads happens in a heartbeat."

I will never forget sitting dry-mouthed and horrified at the media bench in Nelson District Court, watching a local man punished for accidentally killing a woman with his car.

He was a normal guy - not a boy racer, bogan or teenager, but a man who drove for a living, and he stood in the dock on crutches, red-eyed and grey-faced. As the woman's family read their statements, he looked like he was about to be sick - and I felt the same.

Frankly, I do not know how he went on after that. Causing such tragedy is my nightmare - though such fear, which I flatter myself only borders on the pathological, might be the reason why I've never had a car crash or got a ticket.

I can't muster much sympathy for people who complain about speed camera tickets, as they have done lately with the amusing news that someone's hacked a bush down on Atawhai Drive to reveal the speed camera van. I love the revolutionary spirit, but arguments about police revenue-gathering are missing the point.

Of course they're revenue-gathering - a Dominion Post story a while back revealed that police budget for the fines. But that's not the argument. Really, with cars the death traps they are, a fine for speeding should be the least of your worries. Consider a ticket valuable insurance against killing someone in the future.

I'll admit I'm a terrible driver. I'm tentative, yet impatient, at once tortured by visions of skittling cyclists and enraged by people who drive 90 in the 100km zone.


It took me a very long time to learn at all.

When I was 15, Mum would take me out to those teenage learning spots - an empty car park or the streets of a new subdivision - but she'd sit rigid in the passenger seat, alternating between giggling nervously and pulling up the handbrake, shrieking "STOP!"

Real roads were clearly beyond her, so it took me until midway through university to even get my restricted, when my dear friend Mark picked up the reins.

For our first lesson, he sat me in the car park at Dunedin's St Kilda beach and gave me a 20-minute lecture about how any idiot could get a driver's licence, so I certainly could; that cars were screaming metal death traps that concertinaed like Coke cans under a foot when they met at high speed; that they were piloted by fools cocooned in an amniotic sac of superior complacency; that it was a wonder that the road toll wasn't higher.

Twenty minutes later, while attempting to parallel park, I stomped on the accelerator rather than the brake and came within inches of caving in the back end of a parked Mercedes.

I later perfected my driving skills in an old Daewoo delivery van that ran on LPG, rattling along the eight-lane highways of South Korea when I taught English there in 2005. The car was the sort of bomb where you'd park in front of a tree, then release the handbrake on a whim and roll gently into it, just to see what would happen (quite a bit, actually).

When I returned home, it was my turn to borrow Mum's old red Subaru Impreza, which was a silly car to bring to Nelson, a city of boy racers. Mum eventually gave up hope that I'd return it, and transferred it over to me one Christmas, sending a card with a helpful newspaper cutout of the country's top-10 most stolen cars.

Sure enough, someone nicked it, and it fetched up a few weeks later halfway down a cliff on Princes Dr. The young, drunk, unlicensed driver escaped the scene and most of the punishment while I footed a $400 salvage bill.

Later, I found out that due to ill-managed paperwork between my mother and myself, the car had been uninsured, which meant nine months of cycling Nelson's hills until I could buy a new one. Six months after that, I backed out of a friend's driveway and rearranged their fence with my new car's front bumper, which inexplicably fell off. The insurance company wisely decided the whole mess thing wasn't worth fixing.

Sick of vehicles, I put the insurance payout toward my first house and bought close to town. Now I'm quite happily saving hundreds of dollars a month by walking and cycling, which is only occasionally a total pain in the neck.

I'll buy another car sometime in the future, but for now there's a nice simplicity.

Tragedy on the roads happens in a heartbeat, and why wouldn't you do everything in your power to prevent it?

If speed cameras make people pay more attention, I'm all for them. No matter how great a driver you think you are, there's always going to be some other idiot hooning toward you, taking your safety entirely out of your hands. Hopefully, it won't be me.