Police in Victoria, Australia announced today that the point-to-point average speed camera system on the Hume Highway has been turned off until officials are convinced that a fatal accuracy flaw had been fixed. Officials admitted that at least nine drivers have been falsely convicted of speeding on that road since 2007. Officials only began to double-check the accuracy of the Redflex automated ticketing machine after police went to seize the car of a young woman accused of driving a low-powered economy car at high speed.
“It’s been a failure of the system in terms of 100 percent accuracy,” Redflex CEO Graham Davie said on 3AW radio. “It happened because of a technical glitch in the clock system…. I’m sorry this event has occurred.”
Last week, a police officer served an automobile seizure notice on a 20-year-old woman, Melissa, whom the camera had accused of doing 154 km/h (96 MPH) on the Hume Highway on September 24 where the speed limit was 110 km/h (68 MPH). The offense was accompanied by a twelve-month license suspension.
“I was pretty upset, it was impossible for me to go that fast,” she told 3AW radio. “I couldn’t believe it. I was just shocked. I kept saying I didn’t do it.”
The officer on the scene understood that Melissa’s 84-horsepower economy car, a three-year-old Mazda 2, was not making a high-speed run. Because of his doubt, an investigation was launched that uncovered even more errors in the camera system. On March 31, 2009, a driver was accused of going 122 km/h (76 MPH), and a court convicted him, imposing the $227 fine and demerit points against his license. Another driver on the same day was falsely accused of driving 118 km/h (73 MPH). Two more drivers were falsely accused in June 2008 and three more in 2007. All were actually moving at the speed limit of 110 km/h or less.
“We found there was a problem with those two tickets,” Victoria Police Deputy Traffic Commissioner Ken Lay told 3AW radio. “There’s been a particular problem with the data… We’re confident that the other 68,000 are rock solid.”
Those tickets are worth $15 million, and the state government is desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2003 incident where a 1975 Datsun 120Y was falsely accused of driving a speed the vehicle was incapable of reaching. The resulting firestorm of criticism forced $26 million in refunds. Lay vowed to restart the Hume Highway cameras after a software upgrade is installed.
Average speed cameras operate by having one or more cameras photograph vehicles at different points along the highway a set distance apart. By calculating the amount of time it takes for the car to pass from one camera to the other, a speed reading is generated. For this to work, the clock on each camera involved must be set with absolute precision. The cameras re-synchronize once every minute, but one of the cameras for an undisclosed reason set a time that occasionally jumped between a microsecond and a minute too fast, producing an artificially high speed reading.
“I’m told that no other jurisdiction has had this problem,” Lay said. “Now, the trick is whether they’ve had the problem and not known it. I suspect that might be the case.”
Victoria Police noted that the cameras undergo routine maintenance on a strict schedule to ensure accuracy. This includes testing prior to installation, daily monitoring of the system and alarms by Redflex, monthly sensor testing, quarterly speed, accuracy and reliability testing and annual testing all by an independent testing company. None of these procedures uncovered any of the bogus tickets issued in the course of three years.