AES – the Automated Enforcement System – which has been much talked-about and anticipated since 2005 will become a reality this August when over 1,000 sophisticated cameras are activated around the country. The project is a jointly undertaken by the JPJ and two private companies with assistance from the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (MIROS). The privatization of the project is due to its high cost which is believed to be at least RM800 million.
The two companies investing in the project expect to get returns on their investment by taking a share of the money collected from fines. It’s understandable that, as investors, they would expect returns on the money they put in otherwise why make the investment? However, as mentioned by the owners of one of the companies, while profit is important, they also hope that their participation is seen as a ’noble effort’ to help reduce the accident rate in Malaysia.
There is transparency in the way the companies will receive their commissions, unlike certain infrastructure agreements which have even been treated as Official Secrets and are difficult for taxpayers to know about.
In the case of the AES project, there are three tiers agreed upon with different commissions applicable. In the first tier, each company will receive RM16 per valid summons (ie the fine is paid after due process is observed) and this tier is capped at RM5 million per company. Assuming that 10 million summonses are issued each year (only based on offences captured by the AES) and fines of up to RM300 are paid on 50% of the summonses, each company would get up to RM80 million. When the second tier kicks in, each company will be entitled to 50% of the fines collected with a cap of RM270 million. For Tier 3, the commission will reduce to 7.5% and the projection is RM66 million per company by this time.
There is a 5-year contractual period for the development, operation and maintenance of the system by the two companies and after that, the government can either take over or extend the contract (and presumably new terms can be negotiated as well).
For an investor, the business model would look risky as there are a number of factors which are uncertain. The government has not given any guarantees and is not a guarantor in any way either so getting financing for the project was not easy. The commission can only be paid when the summons is settled and though many Malaysians do not go to court for traffic offences because it’s such a hassle, the rate of settlement of summonses is about 40% (according to Datuk Solah Mat Hassan, the JPJ’s Director-General).
So if many more motorists began to respect speed limits and there would be less offences to collect fines for, the revenues would decline for the companies. There is no provision for compensation from the government apparently so that is a big risk. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that summonses issued will fall from millions to hundreds so there will still be cashflow albeit less than projected.
The process of taking the picture and collecting the fine is handled by the two companies. As Malaysian law still observes ‘innocent until proven guilty’, the pictures captured by the AES cameras are considered as evidence of an offence being committed, not confirmation of the offence itself. Incidentally, there are only two offences recorded – breaking the speed limit and running through a red light at a junction. Extensive data is embedded in each image which is then sent to the JPJ for verification. The JPJ will check the ownership details of the vehicle (including motorcycles) based on the registration number and then confirm that a summons can be issued with details of the offender provided. Presumably, the JPJ will not validate an image which shows a Saga but the information in its database shows that the car is a Kelisa.
On issues concerning the inaccuracy of the JPJ database where some motorists who have sold off their cars up to 10 years ago still receive summonses for offences today, representatives of both companies emphasized that they are not responsible for managing the database which is held by the JPJ. The companies are only responsible for sending out the validated summonses by registered post to motorists on behalf of the JPJ, undoubtedly saving time and money for the government agency.
An important point to note is that a summons is only a notification that you are being accused of an offence, not that you have actually committed it. Many people wrongly assume that the summons is a charge and that they must settle it right away. This is not how our system works and there are provisions for you to defend yourself if you believe you did not commit the offence but you must go to a specified court and do so within the stipulated period.
The blacklisting issue has been controversial because the action can only be taken if you are found guilty. While the case is pending or there has been no court decision, you are supposed to remain innocent so how can you be denied the right to renew your licence or roadtax?
Having offences recorded by a camera reduces a lot of argument and benefits motorists as well as the enforcement agencies. It’s hard to argue that you were not doing 120 km/h when the data shows that speed though with some speed cameras which use a narrow beam, the challenge can be posed that the beam hit a car that was speeding past you or behind you. But at least you will be able to get off if the image shows a modified Satria with your numberplate and your car is a stock Kancil.
There are over 1,300 locations in Peninsular and East Malaysia (with 17 in Labuan as well) which have been chosen as they are ‘black spots’ where there are high accident rates, based on studies made by MIROS. Of these, 831 are fixed sites where the cameras will be operating 24 hours daily. Selangor has the highest number of fixed sites (112) for speed cameras while Johor has the highest number (32) of red light cameras. Whether there will be cameras at all 831 sites is uncertain but it is possible that should a location be found to have a reduced incidence of accidents after some time, then it may be dropped from the list and likewise, if a new location becomes a ‘black spot’, it will be introduced to the list and a camera set up.
Besides the fixed locations, the remainder are locations where mobile units will be set up. This will be like the normal speed trap setting where there will be an enforcement officer and personnel from the companies present. The mobile units are the same cameras but run on batteries which can last for about 8 hours.
The 11 megapixel cameras supplied by the two companies have different technologies but can capture 6 sequential images at high speed with very high resolution. Contrary to what some people have suspected, it was confirmed by a representative of one of the companies that the resolution is not so great that details on the roadtax disc can be read in order to compare the registration number to that on the vehicle numberplate. However, it is possible to identify faces of people in the car which can also support any case challenged by an owner who may claim he was not at the spot where the alleged offence was committed. For legal reasons, all cameras will be calibrated for accuracy every eight months using a golden standard which is tested by SIRIM.
The cameras use radar technology which has a broader spread compared to a narrow laser beam that is used by many speed detectors. They point at the road to cover all lanes (up to the maximum width of Malaysian highways) and extend up to 80 metres away from the camera. As they are not triggered by humans, accuracy is much greater and the precise vehicle which has been targeted is identified, so there won’t be disputes as to which vehicle was exceeding the limit.
The red light cameras will be set up at junctions and record a car driving across the intersection when the light is red. There is apparently the capability to record video as well though it is not known if this will also be used. In cases where the traffic is controlled by a policeman, the cameras can be switched off and assurance was given than should the traffic light be fault – like being stuck on red for 10 minutes – the cameras will not record vehicles that start to move across the junction.
All images are sent back to the companies in real-time via a telecommunications network and are stored under strict security. Assurance was given that it would be very difficult for deletion of images either accidentally or deliberately because of the various levels of access and logging of all activities. The security measures in this area are said to be up to global standards for the industry.
As mentioned earlier, the AES is a JPJ initiative to reduce accidents and the traffic police are not using it. Therefore, they will continue to have their own operations which could be within the same area as the AES camera, if they wish to do so. Their equipment however is still more dependent on human control and decision-making. Incidentally, about 2 kms before the AES camera, there will be a signboard warning motorists of the camera.
The AES has been proven to do so in place like UK where use of AES resulted in a 42% decrease in deaths and serious injuries within 4 years. Malaysia’s accident rate is 4 persons/10,000 vehicles and the aim is to reduce this to 2 persons/10,000 vehicle. The problem is that the statistics also include motorcycles which form a substantial percentage of the accidents compared to cars and accidents with motorcycles occur almost anywhere. Therefore focus should be more on this segment and perhaps more AES cameras should be allocated to traffic light zones.
The other thing is that the AES will certainly help identify many offenders and generate a huge number of summonses. Unlike earlier years when film was used to record images and enforcement agencies found that the cost of film and processing became ridiculously high, digital imagery is virtually ‘cost-free’, regardless of how many images are taken. Still, the key point is whether the JPJ will be able to develop a legally-acceptable approach to force motorists to settle their summonses or simply find that they start having even more outstanding summonses!