Speed cameras: Safety, or easy money?

JUST THE TICKET: A single trip proves costly for one Timaru motorist.
JUST THE TICKET: A single trip proves costly for one Timaru motorist.

This is one of those columns I start not knowing how it's going to finish up. Which might not be ideal, but it happens. More often than not, in fact.

The reason this time is a little different. I don't know just how much I want to embarrass myself. Not that I haven't done that before, but most of the situations where I've laughed at myself were ones I could genuinely laugh off, in time.

This one's a little more serious, and not something I'm proud of, let that be clear. But it's also been thought-provoking for me, and might be for you too.

At the very least, you can have a laugh, or tell me I'm an idiot.

Remember December and January?

Yes, the most recent ones.

Not that long ago, but do you remember, straight off the top of your head, what was significant about those months?

Christmas, holidays, yes. But this time round we also had the police trialling a reduced speed tolerance of 4kmh.

It was the first time that had been trialled for an extended period, having previously been in place on a few long weekends.

Anyway, you have the background, and you probably sense something of what's coming. I'm pretty sure, though, unless I've already told you this story or, bizarrely, it's also happened to you, that you won't pick the full extent of it.

On December 9, a Monday, I was working a shift that started at 2pm, and took a break around 5.45pm to take my daughter home to Temuka.

A while later, I received one of those envelopes from the Department of Justice that you open with your heart in your mouth.

Sure enough, it was an infringement notice, informing me I'd been pinged doing 56kmh at 5.51pm on that day, in Evans St. So I'd been 2kmh above the tolerance.

I was disappointed in myself, especially as all the coverage of the tolerance trial meant I was well aware of it, and because I watch my speed carefully on a speedometer that goes up in 5kmh increments. It may be off, I'm not sure.

Nevertheless I paid it, reluctantly, relieved that it was just $30, and thought little more of it.

When another envelope arrived from the department, some weeks later I believe, though I didn't take careful note of its arrival, I saw the date, December 9, read the advice that said, "If you have already paid this, please disregard this notice" and plopped it on top of a bookcase with barely a second thought.

This is where I a) start to get particularly embarrassed and b) wonder if this is where I start bringing some kind of profound message into this column. But I'm getting slightly ahead of myself.

A week ago, I got another letter. This one looked serious. It had red bits on it, and told me I'd been charged $30 in court costs. I was bemused. I looked again at the date, December 9, then went to search for the original infringement notice, the one with the receipt showing I'd paid it. I was going to prove there'd been a mistake.

It took me a while, but eventually I found it. There was the date, December 9, and the receipt. "Boom!" I thought, I'm in the clear.

Not so fast.

I looked a little closer. The date was the same, yes, and the location, Evans St. But the time read 18:22, 6.22pm, half an hour after the other one, and the speed, 57kmh.

I was gobsmacked as the reality set in. Pinged twice in the same trip. I could barely believe it.

I was angry, not an unusual emotion in such situations. Angry with myself, at my own stupidity, primarily.

But also at the whole scenario. I tried to work out where the speed gun might have been, that it could be recording speeds in both directions. Perhaps it was up on Showgrounds Hill, right on the town boundary, where the speed limit drops from 70kmh to 50kmh. Perhaps I'd been slightly hasty to accelerate on the way out, and slightly slow on the brake heading back in.

Maybe there were two guns.

As I say, I'm usually a close watcher of my speed, but those certainly aren't the only times I've been caught out in the 27 years I've had a licence. Not something I'm proud of. My fault.

So this is a cautionary tale, for the most part. Be careful, watch your speed, even if you really think you're a safe driver.

It also comes with questions, though, and the biggest in my mind is: If you're going to place a trap on a main road through a town, at that time of day, with that temporarily lowered speed tolerance, how is that about safety, as opposed to revenue-gathering? It's shooting fish in a barrel, really. I know I exceeded the speed limit, but I'm certain I wasn't driving unsafely.

When I was driving from Geraldine to Timaru on Sunday afternoon, taking Seadown Rd to avoid the roadworks hell on State Highway 1, I was going just under 100kmh when a ute towing a trailer - meaning the limit for its driver was 90kmh - roared up on my bumper. With a car approaching from the opposite direction, a reasonable distance away, he roared past me.

Where was the speed gun then? Because that was genuinely risky driving. Or when a car came from my left at the Washdyke lights and floored it to get past me before the lanes merged?

I'm not getting up the police, they do a hard job well, and they may want to respond. Fair enough.

And I am watching my speed more closely, I believe.

I'm saying speed limits are about safety, not easy money. Just a thought.

The Timaru Herald