Watching: tv current affairs

One of the favourite issues that comes up seemingly every few weeks on tabloid tv current affairs programmes is that of speed cameras and how the government is doing you, the otherwise law-abiding speeding driver, wrong.

The ethical twists and turns that these programmes take in coming out and slamming people for breaking other laws (parking in disabled spots, scamming Centrelink, lying to dodge speeding fines) while simultaneously crying out that speed cameras are nothing more than revenue raisers for greedy governments and promoting ways to "beat the speed camera" are absolutely breathtaking.

A Current Affair last night got just a little obsessed with this, running three related stories back to back.

They began by talking about a new speed camera system being introduced in Victoria that uses two separate cameras located at a certain distance apart that calculate the average speed that you must have been travelling between the two to figure out whether you slowed down for the camera but then sped along to the next one.

Now let's put aside for a moment the slightly scary prospect of CCTV like surveillance of every car on the roads and look at the stated intent of the system - to prevent speeding and to avoid the common practice of drivers only obeying the law because they are afraid of being caught.

They even drag in a motoring journalist to make this point and in the process, trivialise it and perhaps even try to put some kind of near national pride spin on it.

"Slowing down at speed cameras then speeding up is almost a national sport. These cameras will certainly stop people doing that," Cadogen said.

The ACA journalist then got obsessed with the notion that a driver could whiz past the first camera at 200km/h and then stop by the side of the road, take a little rest and drive past the second camera at a legal speed and not get busted.

I'm not going to get into how many different kinds of stupid this idea is but our hero just couldn't let go of it when he was talking to one of the traffic cops implementing this new system. It was like he had uncovered Watergate, found the stained blue dress and shot video footage of John Howard getting jiggy with Amanda Vanstone all in one, such was his level of excitement.

Eventually traffic cop admitted that this was possible but there are still road patrols and whatnot to deal with such anti-social types. The reporter then realised that he was probably being a tool and quickly moved on.

ACA followed this up with the standard stats on how much money is raised and how many fines are issued by each state every year (neglecting to put it into any context whatsoever - such as what proportion these make up of car trips, how many accidents are prevented, where the money goes etc) in some kind of bizarro attempt to say that punishing motorists for breaking the law is bad.

This is the same genre of tv that routinely cries out that criminals across society (well ok, mostly petty poor ones - heaven forbid we look into corporate/advertiser crime) aren't treated harshly enough and punishments need to be jacked up all round.

Personally, I don't give two hoots if there is a speed camera on every street at 20 metre intervals if that slows drivers down. Let governments raise all the money they need this way and put it into providing services for the community.

Another argument put by the anti-speed camera mob is that speed cameras fail in their purpose of slowing down traffic (to the legally prescribed limit) because drivers just slow down when they see them and then speed up again. ACA got all riled because the South Australian government (I think) was deceptively hiding speed cameras in wheely bins, fruit crates and bushes. (Interestingly, SA had the lowest revenue raised from speeding fines - connection there perhaps?)

The purpose of a speed law is to create safer roads - the purpose of any law is to create a safer society. If you only obey a law because you are worried about being punished, then you should accept the consequences of breaking that without bitching and moaning. You make a decision and you own it.

Again, I say put them bloody everywhere and see how much traffic slows down once speeders have received half a dozen fines and the message finally sinks in.

Actually, if revenue raising is such a horrible thing, change the system entirely - give community service orders to all speeders (as well as demerits). This would benefit society even more and teach people even better lessons. (Of course, the costs of administering this is another matter I guess)

They finished up with their favourite piece on people who have challenged speeding fines in court and won - one guy because his GPS said that he was (conveniently) only doing 59 in a 60 zone (he had been charged with going 85 and the other raising the more valid question of the accuracy of some of the handheld speedguns.

Ok, so if there are legitimate problems with the equipment, it's fair that these should be pursued and rectified. At the same time, these people have spent thousands of dollars to get out of fines in the hundreds of dollars and clogged up hours and days of court time. These people weren't actually called heroes but this is how they were portrayed. I wonder when the next story on "our failing legal system - how a clogged up court system affects us all" will go to air.

No mention in this story of Justice Marcus Einfeld, who (alledgedly) tried to get out of a $77 speeding fine by claiming that the car was being driven by a woman friend of his who turned out to have died three years earlier. (He later claimed that he was talking about another friend of his with the same name) I guess this didn't quite fit into the heroic category. (I assume they have covered his story at some point but can't find anything online - I wonder what angle they took in this case. It's ok to speed but wrong to lie about it?)

Wow, I had no idea this bugged me so much - I'm not saying that I think all laws are right and that we should blindly follow the ones that don't benefit society - in fact I think we have some kind of duty to society to constantly work on our system of justice - but speeding laws seem like the wrong place to start.

Jumping on people for parking in disabled spots (morally wrong sure and illegal but not so dangerous) while trying to encourage people to weasel around speeding is just wrong.

Shame current affairs shame.