It is the policy of the City of Cape Town that all speed cameras, such as this one on the M3 near the Rosebank off-ramp, should be visible to oncoming motorists. File photo: Denzil Maragele / INLSA

Cape Town - There’s been a storm in a thermos flask on social media after the City tabled its Traffic and Speed Camera Policy at a mayoral committee meeting on 19 June for approval to serve before the full council meeting on Tuesday 26 July.

But mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith insists that there is nothing new about the policy document, which was approved in June 2007 and has now come up for review, as do all policy documents .

For the record, he said, it has always been the policy of the City of Cape Town that camera warning signs be placed not more than a kilometre from a fixed speed camera, that permanent speed camera housings must be painted yellow or covered with reflective material, and that all speed cameras, fixed or mobile, must be visible to approaching vehicles.

Maybe he should be telling that to some of the city’s traffic officials.

The reason for the review, he explained, was to view was to find out whether its provisions are still relevant after 11 years and whether any changes are required - , through public input, which has now been processed, and internal documentation.

Key issue

Concealment of speed cameras was one of the key issues: some say it’s better for the cameras to be visible as a deterrent to speeding, while others say cameras should be concealed because motorists should always be driving as if they think that there is a speed enforcement camera around and not just slow down when they see a camera warning sign.

The portfolio committee considered these issues as well as the public comment received and confirmed the position held by the current policy that all speed cameras should be visibly displayed. Now the document will serve before full Council for final approval.

Contrary to popular belief, said Smith, the city doesn’t run speed traps as a revenue stream. The existing speed camera policy as well as the revised draft are both clear that that speed trapping (and other traffic enforcement) should only be done where accident rates are highest, in order to save lives.

'Focus on drivers' behaviour'

That’s why Cape Town has a proportionately lower income from speed traps than other South African cities, according to Smith - and here we thought it was because we were more laid-back drivers! He made his feelings on the concealment issue plain by saying that the focus should really be on the behaviour of road users and what drivers are doing to contribute to road safety.

"When you warn an oncoming motorist of a speed trap ahead of him,” he said, “you’re enabling reckless driving behaviour that’s one of the major causes of death on our roads - and the next car that driver crashes into could be yours.”

Has he considered that if speed cameras, particularly mobile ones, were not placed where they are difficult to see, motorists going the other way would have no reason to flash their headlights at oncoming traffic?