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“Erroneous laws distort the purpose of my instruments, created for road safety” states the father of Autovelox

Record numbers can be reached with the speed limits currently envisaged by law, explains the CEO of Sodi Scientifica Srl

Original article published in La Repubblica

With regard to road safety, we often hear about “Lowering speed limits” or “Imposing more severe speed limits”, two subjects that I think can be addressed together. My company has never obtained anything from the high penalties of its customers. If I did, I would probably not be writing from my office, where I work 8/10 hours per day, but instead from luxury resorts as I travelled round the world for 10 months of the year with the other two to rest from the trip. Or, perhaps, I would be detained in a national prison for having committed, attracted by so many gains, serious offences, but above all for having been discovered “in the act”.

This playful premise may not appear to you to be inconsistent with the what follows. My observation on speed limits, in fact, stems both from my experience as a driver, now spanning many years, but also and above all being witness to the ease with which, by installing the speed cameras that my company has produced since 1974 (as you know, the first in Italy and also creator of the slogan “Autovelox”, conceived by my father) according to the speed limits prescribed current by law, several important figures are evident.

The digital photography technologies, available to us for at least fifteen years now, represent a significant data base and have dramatically enhanced the ability to detect speeding. Previously, the obvious capacity limits of the chemical medium greatly restricted autonomy, with the effect that the detection stations, especially the fixed ones, very quickly used up their storage capacity and therefore their “turnover” capacity. In fact, today, a fixed speed camera on a motorway, set to the legal limits, detects on average 1,000 offences a day over a 24-hour period.

The point is that the ease of developing such volumes of penalties stems from the fact that substantially all citizens who travel along a road controlled by an electronic device, could potentially breach the law. However, since we know that the vast majority of drivers have what the Civil Code refers to as “good sense and due diligence”, how is it possible to reconcile with this phenomenon? It seems to me that behind this there is a discrepancy between the speed limit and modern times. The speed limits were set by the Highway Code in 1959, when the active and passive safety features of cars were dramatically less effective than those fitted on the vast majority of vehicles in circulation on our roads today.

Moreover, at the time there were no speed cameras and so it was necessary to set limits, aware that application would only have to be visually verified, penalising those who had significantly exceeded the limit imposed. In other words, the principle was: “Let’s put up a speed limit sign for 100, at least car drivers don’t exceed the speed of 150”. Today, however, we continue to apply the speed limits of 1959 and to monitor the application with electronic devices that give us very high precision and reliability.

To overcome this phenomenon, there are several countermeasures:
– Tolerance on the instrumental reading of 5% with a minimum of 5 km/h
– Pre-warning of speed detection stations
– Visibility of the devices
– Restrictions on the use of fixed so-called “automatic” stations, that is, without the presence of a police officer, only on motorways and main non-urban roads; on others the permission of the Prefect is required while in cities they are forbidden
– Restrictions on use that the police set themselves autonomously, such as switching on of the instrument at a fixed location only for a few hours a day or for a few days a week, challenging indictment by omission of official acts

Moreover, legal experts tell me that the pre-warning of speed detection stations is an actual legal anomaly as it is in clear contradiction with the simplicity of the legal system on which the Highway Code is based, namely that a breached prescription results in the application of the corresponding administrative sanction, without further conditions or procedural costs. The French government has already taken steps to eliminate this requirement – imposed many years earlier with respect to Italy – as the percentage of accidents due to excessive speed had seen a significant increase, with a further increased mortality rate than when that requirement was not in place.

Research shows the clear relationship between speeding and the severity of the consequences of accidents, and statistics show that approximately 50% of deaths and more than 70% of accidents and injuries occur on urban roads. In the international context, we must also consider that there is an ongoing process of urbanisation, which in 2007 saw the world population living in cities exceed 50% of the total population of the planet, and that around the world there are now are over 30 megacities with more than eight million inhabitants. From this perspective, the “citizen” accident rate is undoubtedly set to grow. In Italy, although the dynamic is not as explosive as in other countries, it is the dominant phenomenon for road safety and – as such – was clearly highlighted by national authorities, including in a European context and was a topic of collaboration within the United Nations.

The instruments for the detection of speed limit violations, particularly with regard to automatic ones, essentially those used in the absence of a police officer, are preventive tools, as they contribute to certainty of the law and of the penalty and thus contribute to a culture of road safety and to the reduction of a number of road accidents. Despite all this, the current Italian Highway Code does not allow the use of automated speed control systems, that is, without the presence of a police officer, in urban areas. Such impossibility means that there is a real difficulty for road police officers – in particular for local police – who, due to staff shortages or the complexity of the control procedure, limit this type of control or completely cease to implement it, with serious implications for road safety. Because of this, a considerable number of municipal administrations use alternative systems to reduce speed such as artificial humps or raised pedestrian crossings, unlike the prescriptions of the Regulations for the execution and implementation of the Highway Code, however creating additional danger situations for other road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists and patients being transported with emergency vehicles.

Therefore, it would be very effective to position these instruments at all those points where a higher accident rate on the road network can be attributed to a widespread increase in speed, in addition to the limits prescribed by the State authorities. However, single isolated speed detection stations nationwide would not have the same results from the point of view of public awareness compared to the creation of a widespread network of control points. An even distribution throughout the country that would also involve minor roads, both in urban or suburban settings, could be suitably integrated with the systems for measuring and suppressing excess average speed, systems widely and successfully adopted along motorways. This new concept would make these instruments a useful strategic aid as part of an integrated project of Road Safety focused on the achievement of targets for reducing the number of victims established at national and European level.

The political motivation behind the prohibition on the use of automatic speed control systems is based on the potentially excessive number of penalties that can be raised by local public administrations. Removing this motivation would have significant benefits for road safety, because it would remove all the obstacles to extended electronic control. It is, in fact, unclear whether the use of electronics should be pervasive in all of our lives but when it comes to the safety of road users, whether they are drivers, cyclists, pedestrians or new motorists, by law they should be used.