Authorities in NSW were forced to make the embarrassing backflip after the number of low-level speeding fines increased tenfold when warning signs were removed and the threshold at which tickets were issued was dramatically reduced.
Warning signs ahead of mobile speed cameras returned to NSW on 1 January 2023 after the number of tickets issued increased by more than 10 times – and the draconian measures failed to make a dent on the road toll.
Community anger over the removal of warning signs for mobile speed cameras in NSW was so widespread it quickly became a state election issue and the opposition pledged to bring them back if it won office (see below).
Two years ago, authorities in NSW removed portable warning signs ahead of mobile speed camera cars, stripped the vehicles of their overt reflective markings, and dramatically lowered the threshold at which speeding tickets were issued.
Last October, the government announced the warning signs would return.
Figures published by Nine News showed 38,743 tickets were issued to drivers for travelling at less than 10km/h over the limit in 2020 when warning signs ahead of mobile speed cameras were still in use.
However, the following year – when the warning signs were removed, cars were stripped of their overt reflective markings, and the threshold at which speeding tickets were issued was dramatically reduced – a staggering 361,896 tickets were issued to drivers for travelling at less than 10km/h over the limit (approximately 10 times more than the 2020 figures).
In 2022, when NSW authorities back-tracked slightly on the warning sign ban – and installed retractable signs on the roof of speed camera cars – there were 243,622 tickets issued to drivers for travelling at less than 10km/h over the limit (six times more than the 2020 figures).
The initial removal of the warning signs prompted road safety experts to question the government’s motive behind sneaky speed cameras.
In an attempt to support the tough new measures, the NSW Government began an advertising blitz that claimed speeding at less than 10km/h over the limit was a major killer on the roads.
However, road safety experts and frontline police told Drive the government deliberately ignored the much bigger role of drugs, alcohol, unregistered cars, unlicenced and banned drivers, and the failure to wear seatbelts in the less-than-10km/h-over-the-limit fatality statistics.
“The 10km/h message is not an honest reflection of the real killers on our roads,” said one high-ranking highway patrol officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“These cameras are issuing tickets to people who are keeping flow with the traffic, and they are fines (below 10km/h over the limit) we would not issue because you wouldn’t be able to stop every car.
“The return of warning signs (ahead of mobile speed camera cars) is fair game because it means if you get caught you’re clearly not watching your surroundings and paying attention to the road.”
Some motorists were so frustrated by the removal of the warning signs, they took matters into their own hands – though the creators of the makeshift signs were often moved-on by police for public nuisance.
The roll-out of speed camera cars with official portable warning signs in NSW is due to be complete by April 2023.
To date, 38 of the 143 speed camera cars in NSW are equipped with the portable warning signs, according to figures published by Nine News.
Approximately 105 speed camera cars are currently not in use in NSW because they are yet to be equipped with portable warning signs.
Although operators use a mix of vehicles, they say there is not enough room to store the portable warning signs in the cargo area of the Nissan X-Trail SUVs, because the space is occupied by camera equipment.
It is unclear why the portable warning signs can’t be secured in the back seat with seatbelts. The camera vehicles only have one occupant on board.
The portable warning signs are supposed to be displayed before and after the mobile speed camera car when it is in operation – in addition to a retractable sign displayed on the roof.