Camera commissioner faces up to tough task

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Victoria’s new Road Safety Camera Commissioner John Voyage likes tea, rock band The Dandy Warhols and, when his job finishes in three years, he’d like to turn off the lights, close the door to his office and leave knowing that Victorians are safer drivers and trust road safety cameras.

“I think the public might have angst in relation to the operation of road safety cameras if they’re uncertain about their true purpose,” Mr Voyage said.

“There must be community confidence in the operation of the cameras. And if there’s uncertainty then this office can assist the community to see that the role of the cameras is … ultimately about safety,” he said.

It could be a tough task. Ever since the cameras were introduced in Victoria in the late 1980s drivers have referred to them as red light cameras and revenue raisers for the government.

Mr Voyage’s predecessor, Gordon Lewis, helped motorists win back millions of dollars in wrongly paid fines.

“People say the role of the cameras is for revenue raising and I disagree with that. Evidence shows that in tandem with the work of authorities … the cameras play a significant role in ensuring that people are complying with the road rules,” Mr Voyage said.

“What would happen if it was announced that a particular road would have no cameras and no policing, would people then be driving in a safe fashion? My view is that a road where people thought wasn’t being policed would be a more dangerous road,” he said.

And research is on his side. Studies by Monash University’s Accident Research Centre and the Victorian Auditor-General’s report in 2011 showed road safety cameras have changed driver behaviour. The number of speeding and driving through red lights incidents has dropped, leading to fewer accidents and road trauma cases.

Road trauma is something the new commissioner is very familiar with. For 36 years he worked as a lawyer mostly representing people injured in traffic accidents. He also contributed to several parliamentary road safety inquiries.

A year ago, though, he retired. But when the commissioner’s job came up, he abandoned retirement and the cups of tea at home.

Written by Verica Jokic, Photo Meredith O'Shea
June 02, 2016