Road safety Speeding up

Speeding up the mobility transition: Niki Gatsonides, Sensys Gatso

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

With the continuous growth of the population and ongoing urbanization there are numerous mobility challenges. Sustainability, safety and societal impact are amongst our daily concerns. We need to speed up the mobility transition to keep up with the fast changing global dynamics, which requires inventive approaches and better solutions. In this series we share inspiring and innovative cases from all over the world. Niki Gatsonides is CEO for the Netherlands of Sensys Gatso Group. Road safety always has been incorporated in the values of the company . How does he speed up the mobility transition?

The name Gatsonides, sounds familiar? Niki’s grandfather was racing champion Maus Gatsonides. Niki was born in 1974, the year Niki Lauda won the Grand Prix in Zandvoort.

“My grandfather and former racing champion introduced the world’s first speed camera.”

“In 1958 my grandfather, former racing champion Maurice Gatsonides, founded Gatso. At smaller rallies he also drove, volunteers occasionally forgot to push the button of the stopwatch at the start or finish of the race. Maus wanted to design a time measuring device for the race to eliminate these human mistakes. Based on this concept of time measuring over a fixed distance he introduced the world’s first speed measuring device and the first speed camera, the Gatsometer. In 1958 he demonstrated it to the police force in the Netherlands and that is how the first speed camera was born.”

“The device used to measure the speed via tubes on the road. Unfortunately, people would sometimes jump on them or cut the tubes so we redesigned the product incorporating the tubes in the pavement and later, in 1968 towards radar sensors. Our goal is to develop products that need as little infrastructural changes as possible.”

“Together with my brother, I started working at the company in 2000 with a strong purpose to save lives. Road safety to us and our employees is most important. We get up with it and search for improvements every single day. We are passionate to contribute to road safety by advising other countries via embassies, congresses and spreading best practises.”

“In 2015 we sold the family owned Gatso company to the Swedish stock listed company Sensys and merged. In our decision, it was very important to maintain the mission to improve traffic behaviour and road safety. Sensys followed the purpose of Vision Zero and was already cooperating with a lot of governments. So this was a perfect match.”

“As soon as you get rid of the cameras, people tend to return to their bad old behaviour.”

“The larger part of our customers are governmental organisations and (local) governments. Since 2010 we added products to our product portfolio to enforce environmental zones. In Amsterdam we enforce the environmental zone where we are able to detect 99% of all vehicles. Two years after the start of the project, the result was that 89% of the vehicles followed regulations, 9% had a permit and only 2% was in violation. I really like projects like these, because  we contribute to improve liveability in a city through better air quality. I believe such practices cannot be shared enough, since a lot of other cities can benefit from it. You do need to keep enforcing this. As soon as you get rid of the cameras, people tend to return to their bad old behaviour and violate without knowing the consequences or risks.” 

“This involves another part of our business: awareness and education. Education could even be the most important E of three in road safety:
● Engineering roads
● Education
● Enforcement

“We advise governments how to change behaviour by making people more aware of the risks they take when violating. The Dutch have been enforcing road safety for fifty years, however we have to keep making people aware. Especially, with the increase of the diversity in modes of transport. For instance, we are used to bicycles taking part in traffic, but the e-bike is a relatively new mode, even in the Netherlands. E-bikes are nice to have, but when a pizza courier crosses the street with 25km/hr it can cause dangerous situations for other cars and cyclists. Cities tend to ban motorised vehicles and give access to e-bikes to deliver groceries or packages. To keep safety in order, governments need to change regulations.”

“We should implement an extra education moment to update knowledge of traffic.”

“In the Netherlands the children take cycling exams at elementary school. The extra benefit is that not only children, but also the parents update their knowledge, because they are questioning their children in preparation. However, I think it would be better to add another update moment on road safety regulations for children at high school or university, because mobility and traffic changes all the time.”

“We have to adapt quickly. In the future we will experience more modes and more traffic, especially in the cities which keep on growing. The attractiveness of space and liveability will become an important task for governments to focus on. We see that happening already in the United States and countries in Africa.”

“I believe the biggest challenge for the future also lies in traffic flow. We need to prevent drivers to “block the box” and regulate speed. At the same time we are still dealing with outdated infrastructure or public transport systems that shut down when it rains or snows. As soon as one traffic system flaws, the entire flow is stuck. We need to offer travellers a good mix in modes to find an alternative as soon as one mode shuts down or malfunctions.” 

“Instead of charging more when traveling during rush hours, I think we should receive extra credits or money when you travel outside those hours.”

“When we talk about regulation of traffic flows, we always come to road user charging. I hope we can expand the possibilities in road user charging to spread the traffic. Instead of charging more when traveling during rush hours, I think we should receive some extra credits or earn money when you travel outside those hours.”

“There is still so much to discover when it comes to equipment of enforcement. A lot is still done manually. However, this depends on how good the equipment needs to be in order to fulfil the task of enforcement. In the 1980s we used to remove the roll of film from a speed camera pole and change it to the next one. We would leave the poles empty. The awareness of the pole remained, even though there is no camera rolling. This method is often used on test locations before they install the equipment and implement the enforcement systems. It used to be done manually, but today it is cheaper to put a camera on every pole and monitor them digitally.”

“Improving the equipment can also offer other opportunities. In the Netherlands we have a shortage in police force. In the future it might no longer be necessary for the police officer to enforce traffic or write a fine. They can spend time on ‘catching the real criminals’, like people always say when getting a fine. It could also fight corruption in some countries. As long as we have the evidence of the violation done by the right equipment, this can work!”

“In Germany cameras are only allowed to store the data after the person has violated the regulations.”

What about privacy regulations. Is Big Brother watching you? 

“No, it improves our road safety! I do not mind a camera to check whether I am using a phone while driving, as long as the data is deleted when the person is not in violation. What is allowed to check with a camera differs from country to country. In Germany for example cameras are only allowed to store the data after the person has violated the regulations, with the downside that lots of new technology to make traffic safer cannot be implemented in Germany.”

“This brings us back to the importance of awareness and education. We try to keep the conversation going with our clients and governments and advise on how to make people more aware of the importance of those cameras. Educate and make people aware of their safety is what I get up for in the morning.”


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