ON 3AW at the moment, Neil Mitchell is wondering what to do about the Burnley Tunnel, and while this is a topic of prime interest only to those blessed to reside in Melbourne, the normally acute radio host's inability to recognise the real problem provides a more general lesson in the consequences of elevating preconception above evidence.
For those not from Melbourne, the issue is how to improve safety. Several years ago, an horrific accident sparked a fire and cost three people their lives. Near misses are regular events, and the authorities have made it clear that they do not like drivers changing lanes. Mitchell also sees lane-changing as a danger -- and he is right, but only in part.
Simply put, it is very hard to change lanes when you cannot go faster than the car you seek to overtake, and thanks to Victoria's speed/revenue cameras, drivers live in fear of being just a few all-but-imperceptible clicks over the limit. Exceed the posted speed by as little as 5km and you can expect a $170 fine in the mail. The Shakedown State is unyielding on the matter of speed, as a friend of Young Master Bunyip came to understand when he lost his licence and was hit with some $700+ in fines as a consequence of a single tunnel transit. The speedo on his motorbike was broken and each of the tunnel's cameras pinged and fined him as he went past.
The result is that drivers watch their speedos, not the car in front, on the tunnel's downslope. For truckies this is a nightmare. A driver with a heavy load has to stand on the brakes all the way to the bottom of the incline. On the ascent, having bled off all speed and momentum on the way down, it is a low-gear crawl up the slope to the light of day. Stuck behind a rig going nowhere fast, other drivers change lanes. And since those maneuvres begin at a low speed, they must hope no faster vehicle collects them as they do so.
And there is the bigger danger borne of the tunnel's revenue cameras. If one is heading east and aiming for the Richmond ramp, the first after the tunnel's exit, there is no choice but to change lanes. Drivers enter at the City end in the extreme right lane and must get into the extreme left lane if they are not to make the ramp. Miss it and the next exit is Toorak Road, miles down the track.
Try changing lanes with one foot on the brake. It is about as difficult -- and hazardous -- an operation as might be imagined. Watch the brake lights coming on in the video below, and also imagine you are the driver of the little silver car and need to get across to the Richmond exit.
The obvious solution would be to relax the tunnel's speed limits to permit brief burst of acceleration as circumstances and good sense dictate. Obvious, no?
Ah, but not in Victoria, where a vast, fine-funded bureacratic machine has been assembled to preach the gospel that it is speed, and speed alone, which is the threat to life and safety on the road. The Traffic Accident Commission is so awash with cash it sponsors jazz festivals and, more annoying, advertising agencies churning infuriating "public service" announcements about the need for everyone to drive 5kph slower. The logic of those ads ignores the laws of physics and makes no allowance for the shape, mass and design of the many different cars on our roads. But every night they go to air, laying guilt trips on blameless viewers in the name of saving lives.
What those ads really aim to protect is the bureaucrats' and state government's excessive access to drivers' pockets.
If the authorities want to see a safer tunnel, they should rip out the speed cameras without delay. That won't happen, of course, not with all that lovely fine revenue pouring in at a rate of better than a million dollars a day.