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April 15th, 2017 by


Besides the age-old stereotype of a police officer hiding in a bush with a speedometer, there is actually some interesting technology behind the surveillance of vehicles in South Africa.

From radar to licence plate recognition, here’s what technology is behind your traffic fine.

The Fixed Automatic Speed Camera

Ever wonder exactly how a speed camera knows when to take a snap? Well, there are two ways.

Either a speed camera has a radar beam, which triggers photo-capturing when an object travels past at a certain speed. Or, there are sensors within the road surface, which trigger the camera, according to AutoEvolution.

The camera itself snaps images. These include information such as the time and place of the incident, and the speed of the vehicle.

Meanwhile, cars traveling below the speed limit are essentially ‘invisible’ to the camera.


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Red Light Camera

Red light cameras are implemented at intersections with traffic lights to prevent drivers from skipping through the stop signal. But, how is this done?

It turns out that these types of cameras have a magnetic field, which is activated during the red light phase of robots. Any cars that break this field are captured on the camera, according to SafeRoadsHumber.

It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, it’s the fact that you’re going that is going to get you a traffic fine and photo op with this type of camera.

Mobile Cameras

The mobile cameras we see operated by police officers use different technology to fixed speed cameras.

These cameras use laser technology, which emits a beam at oncoming vehicles, AutoEvolution explains. The Doppler effect is triggered and affects the frequencies of the laser beam, which in turn is used to determine the speed at which your vehicle is traveling.

Some “speed guns” (handheld mobile cameras) use RADAR technology instead. These also use the Doppler effect to determine speed. Although, a radio beam is emitted instead of an infrared beam.

The RADAR speed guns also have a shorter range than the laser speed guns, according to StealthVeil.com.

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The Speeding Formula

According to Arrive Alive, there is actually a scientific basis for speed camera enforcement, rather than just bleeding speeding motorists’ wallets dry.

“In an urban 60 km/h speed limit environment … the relative risk of being involved in a casualty crash … was found to approximately double for each 5 km/h increase in free traveling speed,” Arrive Alive says on its site.

There is even a relative risk formula used to determine the likelihood of a fatal crash. Using figures from case studies for various speeds above and below a speed limit threshold.

Because people rarely just do things because they’re told, authorities say that changing driver behaviour is best achieved via deterrents like penalties. Hence the enforcement of speed limits via cameras and fines.

According to Arrive Alive, studies show a significant decrease in fatality risk when an area has speed enforcement.

Licence Plate Recognition

Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology is used to monitor all licence plates traveling through a camera’s view.

The technology is different to the traditional speed camera, which snaps a shot of a speeding vehicle but doesn’t necessarily ‘recognise’ the licence plate itself.

ALPR cameras are used mostly in tolling and can recognise unpermitted vehicles so that authorities can penalise accordingly. Many surveillance cameras, like CCTV cameras, are equipped with ALPR capabilities.

The cameras are also used for surveillance by police forces, especially in developed countries. The cameras can pick up the licence plates of vehicles that have been reported as stolen or flagged for other reasons.

A report by Dr Dale McKinley in December 2016 noted the significant use of ALPR and CCTV cameras by SANRAL to monitor tolling across the country.

So, basically, it’s ALPR cameras you can thank for not being able to sneak past the e-tolls without being charged.

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The Payment System

Increasingly, municipalities are implementing payment solutions via technology, like the internet or mobile phones, so that drivers can pay their fines more easily. After all, many of us are a bit skeptical about sending payments via post. And, others would like to avoid the hassle of visiting municipal traffic departments.

Online portals can link you to the traffic infringements linked to your licence plate, or you can use online banking and apps to pay for your fines.

PayCity is one online portal residents can use. While banks, like FNB, ABSA and Standard Bank, have tools for paying your fines.

Cellphone banking is another method for paying fines, with various banks offering the ability to do this.

There are also pay-points available at supermarkets like Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Checkers, and others.