/ Motoring

Don’t switch off speed cameras


You’ve probably seen the headlines about government cuts forcing some councils to switch off speed cameras. So is it really the beginning of the end for the Gatso?

The papers have leapt on the decision by Oxfordshire County Council to switch off its 72 speed cameras with thinly-disguised glee. And I’m sure there are many drivers who feel the same (or who wish they lived in Oxfordshire).

But before we all rush to herald the death of the Gatso, let’s look behind the headlines at what’s really going on.

Road safety cutbacks

Oxfordshire council has been forced to make savings after a swingeing 40% cut in central government funding for road safety. The council has opted to slash £600,000 from it’s funding of the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership (which maintains and administers the region’s fixed-location cameras).

So after years of building up a network of speed cameras, those in Oxfordshire will now be turned off – all in the name of saving money.

That’s ironic, given that most drivers seem to think speed cameras are nice little earners for the council, or simply a ‘tax on motorists’. But the money they raise goes to central government, not to the local council. And I’m quite sure that if Oxfordshire council could use the revenue from its cameras to fund other road safety projects, it wouldn’t be decommissioning them…

Cutting cameras to cut costs

I’m not a great fan of the Gatso – I don’t like the way drivers are distracted into checking their speedometers rather than the road ahead, or brake suddenly to avoid a fine. It pains me to say it, but average speed cameras work much better at controlling traffic (although these wouldn’t work for all roads, and still create a distraction).

Personal gripes aside, I can’t help thinking that this could be a landmark moment in road safety policy – especially if other councils follow Oxfordshire’s lead, as seems likely. So a knee-jerk reaction based on cutting costs isn’t helpful.

In my view, the government should be encouraging a much more considered debate, seeing where it’s possible to make road safety savings that will pay-off long-term. It doesn’t have to be a bloated year-long policy review costing millions of pounds. It just needs to pool local knowledge from around the UK, and review the best road safety practices from other countries.

In recent years, councils have fallen in and out of love with speed bumps, width restrictions, chicanes, flashing signs and speed cameras – but does anyone really know which are the most effective?

I’m not saying we need more speed cameras or traffic calming. But as a driver and a taxpayer I want to know that we have an integrated policy for preventing tragic road deaths, not a piecemeal approach to cutting costs.

Are you for or against speed cameras?

Against (53%, 425 Votes)

For (47%, 382 Votes)

Total Voters: 807

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What a classic example!
A decision is made by a bunch of councillors to reduce the speed limit on a section of the A370 to 50mph ( which was presumably previously the national 60 mph limit).
They sit around a table and all agree it would be a good idea to reduce it to 50. No scientific evidence it would appear, it just seems like a good idea.
To ensure that people take notice, they then decide to reduce it to an artificially low 40 mph, ‘just in case’
Most car’s speedos will read anything up to 10 % high, so the law abiding driver, driving at what he/she thinks is exactly on the limit will actually be travelling at 36 mph.
The more timid, or less competent driver will of course drive at what they think is a comfortable 35 mph (or less), ‘just to be on the safe side’, which will actually be a true speed of 31.5 mph.
This will inevitably cause a ‘convoy’ of cars behind, the drivers of which will quite naturally and understandably become impatient, causing them to overtake, whereas if they had been travelling at a speed which they judged to be safe for the road, they probably would see no need to.
Overtaking increases the danger of collisions, particularly when trying to still keep within the speed limit, so before you know it, the road will be classed as an accident black spot, and the limit reduced even further. —-When there was never a problem in the first place.

Thank you John Pope. You couldn’t have made a better case for the scrapping of speed cameras and a return to more realistic speed limits, if you’d tried.

paul says:
20 August 2010

Stop all unlicensed/uninsured drivers and cars without mots(License all second hand car dealers).Put roundabouts instead of traffis lights(you have to slow for them).Incentivise lorries to travel on motorways 9pm-6am.Create proper safe bus stops not obscuring vision or blocking the road.Barrier/fence school access to the road for 100 yards and put in bumps outside every school.Open up all roads blocked off in the last twenty years(ease congestion frustration.)Make manufacturers fit ABS/Stability control/Tyre pressure warning sensors/collision avoidance cruise control to all new cars.Restrict 18-21 year old drivers to 120BHP max cars……..When you have done all that then if safety has not dramatically improved there is a case for prosecuting millions of drivers who have not actually harmed anyone or anything by speeding alone!

Adrian Danson says:
27 August 2010

How do you stop all unlicensed/uninsured drivers…..? I like the council that took away such cars and scrapped them. Perhaps, if they are roadworthy, they should be sold and the proceeds put towards the cost of such action. I thought lorries were already incentivised by the fact that motorways provided the quickest journeys at all times, though that does not apply to the M25 during rush hours. Do you want them digging up your front gardedn to make room for an off-road bus stop? I see many instances of roads accommodating space for buses, but this is only possible where the road is wide enough, generally this is not an option. I’m not sure what form the proposed barrier/fence would take, but think it would simply transfer the problem of parents double parking and generally causing congestion, to another part of the road, though it might affect those who use their cars yet live only a few hundred yards away from the school.
Road bumps damage expensive catelitic converters, cause air and noise polution and have no affect on some drivers. Speed cameras ore the ONLY things that cause people to slow down and cost money for those who refuse to comply with the law. Alleged accidents are not caused by the cameras, but by those who were speeding, i.e. criminals, slamming on their brakes and causing the speeders behind to hit them. No accident would result if the car behind complied with the law. Congestion is caused by too many cars on the road and the desire of many drivers to travel at maximum speed. What they do with the few seconds, or perhaps minutes, saved is a matter of conjecture, but I doubt if is anything useful. Frustration is usually the consequence of denying drivers the quickest completion of journeys, the vast majority of which are not vital and reflect a failure to allow sufficient time to accommodate the slow journeys that result from too many cars. The fact that so many drivers think that speed limits should not apply to them and that pedestrians who die from being hit by speeding motorists would never apply to them, express sorrow (in most cases) when they cause a death. As for roundabouts slowing traffic, some roundabouts cause queues hundreds of yards long, because of almost continueous traffic having right of way as they are coming from the right.
Simplistic solutions to accommodate faster driving is neither viable, nor desirable.

Paul you are spot on. I agree with every word and by you saying it it’s saved me from writing my own comment.

Kevin says:
20 August 2010

Most drivers only observe the speed limit at the point where the camera is positioned, how many are seen slowing down as they approach the camera only to speed up again when they have passed it, often a much more dangerous activity, than driving sensibly.
Try driving at 30 mph and see how much aggravation and abuse from other road users.Plus how many speedo’s are accurate there is always the 10% error factor with the recorded speed within the car, to speed my sat nav shows I’m doing. To avoid prosecution I always follow the car speedo.

The revenue generated by fining motorists who exceed statutory speed limits goes to quangoes called Road Safety Partnerships which are funded by the tax payer and those fines. In my opinion, these legalised highway robbers are as useful as a deterrent as wheel clampers are at stopping the unwary from parking in given areas. ie they are merely an excuse for relieving the motorist of sums of money to fund their business.
It is in the interest of these Partnerships to set up mobile and fixed speed traps for road users which are designed to catch out the unwary who are guilty of not focussing their attention on their speedometer instead of the road. It is noticeable that many of the fixed cameras are outside of the built up areas where they could have a safety benefit.
As many above have said, the fixed cameras do not catch the local speeders who know where the fixed cameras are and race between them.
Illuminated Vehicle-Activated Signs should be sufficiently informative to inform road users what speed they are doing and what the limit is (they show me that at 30 on my speedo I am actually doing 27mph!). Department for Transport figures show that vehicle-activated signs are estimated to prevent 3.1 accidents per year (compared to 2.2 for speed cameras).
Many European countries take this a little further in built up areas, by turning on red traffic lights for motorists who go through these signs too fast. This would provide sufficient excess speed deterrent for safety purposes in built up areas for those trying to hasten their journey on our inadequate road system. ie the punishment for going too fast is to be slowed down even more.
So lets inform motorists rather than catching them unawares momentarily and fining them. Most motorists drive at an appropriate speed for their own safety and those of others.

Why the fuss?

If you don’t speed then the cameras are irrelevant to you.

If you do speed then either you are driving without due care and attention (a criminal offence), or you are doing it intentionally, ignoring democratically decided safety limits for the safety of our society, that is being antisocial. So it is reasonable that you should give something back to society.


Andrew, have you read any of the other comments?

“If you do speed then either you are driving without due care and attention (a criminal offence), or you are doing it intentionally, ignoring democratically decided safety limits for the safety of our society, that is being antisocial.”

Driving without due care and attenttion is indeed an offence; but with speed limits constantly being lowered many drivers find themselves “speeding” when they are driving along a road at the same speed as they have been driving along it perfectly safely for decades.

Democratically decided? What planet are you on?` Even the police are ignored in the setting of some speed limits.

Sue – the trouble is decades ago – the traffic was less dense – Nowadays the increase in density means more traffic – more probability of accidents – to counteract that the speed limit has been reduced – A good driver obeys the speed limit as the maximum they can drive without breaking the Law.

No speed tickets yet after 55 years – it’s not difficult – obey the law.

Pete Collins says:
23 August 2010

Rule number one of advanced driving is to always drive at a speed such that you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear. The problem is that many speed limits are not appropriate at all times of day and under all conditions – driving past a school where there is a 30mph limit at 40mph at 6am on a clear August morning may be perfectly safe, but when school’s out on a wet December afternoon even 15-20mph may be too fast. The problem with speed cameras is that they can’t make the distinction, so responsible drivers end up being penalised even though they are driving perfectly safely. Personally, I would get rid of all speed limits and put a much greater emphasis on hazard perception and personal responsibility to drive safely – if you are involved in an accident which is your fault, you get an automatic 6 month ban, and if you cause an injury you get banned for 5 years.

Henry the Navigator says:
24 August 2010

I am torn between approval and disapproval. I was bitten by one of these devices at the bottom of a short hill outside King Edward VI School in Totnes at 0300 Monday in midwinter. Had not seen a vehicle or a person for 15 miles. The short hill adds 10mph to one’s speed. I was driving to conditions, forgot to brake, double flash, £60 and 3 points. Curses!

Yet six hours later on the same day that speed camera was absolutely essential for the safety of the kids going to school.

BobP says:
25 August 2010

Having read almost all of the remarks being made & also written on this issue before the main point [page 4 ] remains being to this subject Speed Cameras but lets look at it again ie, it is all about speed & the law then I am sorry but whatever we all say We all live in a country that has laws that should be used by everyone even if we do not agree with them . If we are all allowed to use our own discretion then why cannot we Drink & Drive , Steal , Hit People we Hate , even take the law into our own hands over Neighbour Disputes , the problem is there are the certain few who hate to be told to do something they think can be done better [ at times I am fed up with some of them & feel some are simply stupid ] , yes speed limits seem to be set at the wrong limits but the law is the law of this country [ sorry ] like it or not we should abide by them then as I stated before we would not have big brother watching our every move 24 hrs a day , 365 a year . Speed & be fined then perhaps you have more money than you need ? . Far better leave earlier then you will have more time to get there richer .

Bob. the difference between the crimes you mention and “speeding” is this; it is often perfectly possible for a driver to exceed a speed limit quite safely and without harming anyone.

You admit that some are set too low; it follows that the maximum safe limit for those roads is higher than the posted limit. Assuming this, how could it be dangerous to exceed these “too low” limits? (As long as the driver takes all other factors into account.)

Dear Sue, I’d love to drive faster too and, I’d be just as safe as you are along that stretch of road. Trouble is, I’m not allowed to. So, you want to drive at forty and I have to drive at thirty – result – you’re up my exhaust pipe. I’m sure that there are better ways of getting to know you. Until things change we just have to stick with it. Life’s a “female dog” isn’t it?

P.s. To everyone. Did you know that you can type things in ‘Word’ and paste them into the comment box. It helps pick up typos. I’d love to see a facility for italics, underlining and, maybe font colours. So much more expressive than CAPS.

I’d just love an answer from BobP (or anyone else) to the question I asked!

Me too – I’d love to be more expressive but as the only variation allowed is CAPS which is considered on the forum as shouting ..

I’ve used Word Perfect to see if it transfers fonts.- it doesn’t

Incidentally If you use Mozilla spell checking is automatic. as you write – and it’s *free*

Vynor – It is possible to produce bold and italics using simple HTML codes, so underline and colour would probably work too. Microsoft Word will produce simple HTML if a document is saved as a Web page, which could be pasted into the comments box. I’ve not tried this and the moderators might not approve.

It is perfectly normal to discourage use of capitals in online discussions. The reason is usually given that they look as if the author is shouting, but capitals are often made by authors making comments that might be regarded as patronising.

Sorry for being rude. The question you ask is, what’s dangerous and what isn’t. I would agree with you that given the right circumstances it is perfectly safe to drive above the speed limit, because in those circumstances you are not going to hit anyone or anything. Indeed, any conviction you recieve will probably be for speeding and not dangerous driving. Of course, in a crowded street doing thirty could be called reckless and may lead to a charge of dangerous driving even though you kept within the limit set. Speed limits are set to cope with the worst conditions on any given road. They take no account of the times when you are the only one there and the road is wide and pedestrian free. Likewise, speed cameras just click whether it’s mid day or mid night. So given these facts alone, you can drive safely at a sensible speed anywhere.

The government would argue that limits are set for the safety of all road users and should be obeyed at all times. They will have no sympathy for anyone caught exceeding these limits what ever the conditions. They would also suggest that one motorist’s safe limit is another’s reckless driving and, since there can be only one body making these decisions, what they say must go and it is not safe for any individual to decide for himself what is safe and what’s not. They might also suggest that anyone who is tempted to speed when it is ‘safe’ to do so, will also be tempted to do this as a matter of course when they think no one’s watching.

The issue of dangerous driving due to speed is therefore an hypothetical one in this case. We may not like what’s been prescribed but it’s there and we have to abide by it if we live here.

As a brief aside. I have been driving over the same stretch of road for about forty years and have learned that for this three miles or so, one can cruise happily, without disturbing Granny in the back, at around fifty. A few years ago, someone had an argument with a telegraph pole and this stretch is now down to forty all the way. O.k. so now I do forty and guess what? There’s always a huge tail of impatient people behind me. Some risk their necks to get past before this forty begins so that they can ignore it. If anyone put a hidden speed camera there it would pay the national debt off in no time.

Thanks for answering the question Vynor.

I agree with alot of what you say; except “Speed limits are set to cope with the worst conditions on any given road.” I’m not actually disagreeing with you on that point either; except that isn’t the way things should be, although it sometimes is!

A speed limit should be the maximum speed that is safe on that particular road and drivers are supposed to adjust their speed downwards if conditions are less than ideal. Otherwise all roads would have a limit of about 25 or 30 to allow for poor weather conditions!

Part 2; I keep typing stuff in and it disappears!

Regarding the lowered limit; the same happened to me with the main road going from 60mph to 40 for no apparent reason. Fortunately there are no cameras so nearly everyone drives along this road at the same speed they always have done! If it was safe to do 55 when the limit was 60 there is no reason why it is dangerous now. The fact that the limit is largely ignored means that there is not much overtaking, which can often be a dangerous manoeuvre.

On your road the fact that someone hit a telegraph pole once makes no difference to your chances of doing the same; and the drivers who drive to the old limit are not driving any more dangerously than they were before the limit was lowered!

They only want to do this so they can speed themselves, i think so anyway. You’d think the money’s they get from the fines pay for the camera’s themselve’s. We go out many a time and the cars speed along and then when they see the camera warning they slow down then as soon as they get past the camera they speed up. It’s disgusting. My husband always goes at the speed limit yet we many a time have people driving very close trying to force us to speed up it’s ridiculous the way some people drive. If they are in a hurry they should set off sooner. Yes i do think speed camera’s should continue to be used.

Completely agree – it is bad drivers who want to ignore speed limits and drive faster and just as badly.

As I keep saying the reason the speed cameras were put up locally here in the first place was because of increasing numbers of accidents caused by drivers driving at inappropriate speeds so they could not stop in time – That is why speed kills – bad drivers driving badly at too high a speed.. The number of accidents here fell – meaning that many of the idiot fast drivers slowed down because the fines and points soon start to hurt.

Now they want to discontinue the cameras that have proved to the RSoA (or whatever it’s called) satisfaction (and mine) to save lives and reduce congestion due to accidents.

Total Madness. It’s equal madness to want to raise speed limits because cars “are safer now” – completely ignoring the increased safety factors will be totally counteracted by the rise in speed.

As I’ve said before – the amount of bad driving is enormous and increasing – normally due to the so called “drivers” driving at too high a speed for prevailing conditions. And to think some posters already admit they cannot drive and look in the mirrors and behind as they should do . nor do they know what speed they actually driving at.

If they can’t – no wonder there are so many accidents

Sheer madness!!!.

Chris says:
22 November 2010

All the scientific evidence shows exceeding the speed limit does not cause accidents. The UK has the best drivers [outside Iceland] in the world. No one can tell me that a dual carriageway that used to have a 70 mph limit is now unsafe to do more than 30 mph!
Time to return to the old method of setting speed limits at the 85th percentile [the speed at which 85% of drivers would keep within without any outside influence]. Now that’s democratic!

Sadly the numbers of non British drivers has increased by around 4 million non British drivers in the last 10 years – rather diminishing the quality of the “British” driver – and may explain why the numbers of bad drivers I note daily is increasing.

Stephen Taylor says:
27 January 2011

What we need is evidence not opinion. Are statistics collected to justify speed cameras? I assume so. It will be very interesting to see how many more people are killed in the ares where cameras have been switched off. Surely reducing the death rate is far more important than uninformed opinion or cost savings? In any case, every fatal road accident comes at great financial cost to the community. Please give us facts and not opinions.

dwaine steffes says:
1 February 2011

I am in favour of keeping the cameras near schools and particulary dangerous road situations. However, having worked for an auto manufacturer a few years ago, I can caution the reliance on the accuracy of the speedometres. They can be +or – 3 mph from the true speed. Tyre pressures and temperatures will also affect the registered speed. Cameras need to be set for this tolerance.

Dwaine says I am in favour of keeping the cameras near schools and particulary dangerous road situations.

This is about the worst place to put cameras. Yes, seriously.

When it is close to chucking-out or arrival time, you want eyes looking everywhere for real hazzard – kids darting between parked cars, chasing after kicked footballs, errant parents backing into the carriaeway still waving at their loved ones, car doors flying open.. I could go on. In such conditions, the chances of being in excess of the speed limit is pretty near zero, even if 20 mph. Yet if the limit IS 20 mph, and an artificial hazard that could affect one’s livelihood, in the form of a Gatso, has been placed in the vicinity, one naturally takes one’s eye to the speedo. With the most agile eyes in the world, to focus sufficiently well on the speedo and then refocus to the carriageway will take the best part of a second. In that time you could have taken a car door off or worse. Best not to have the extra hazard methinks.

When NOT at chicking out or arrival time, it is arguably safe to go through at 25 – 30 mph. Not so weith the Gatso, so we all brake and re-accelerate. What does this do? Lays down very think layers of rubber, naking it lethal for when it’s wet, right outside a school. Good old Gatsos.

Roger – where I live all schools are surrounded by “sleeping policemen” or speed bumps no Gatsos. Wonderful things – if you go over 20mph – your suspension suffers – so you don’t have look at your speedo. If you go at 30 plus bits break.off. Sort of reinforces physically that the speed limit is 20 mph – so much safer for the pedestrians and children. I like that.

Interestingly since the overall introduction of speed bumps here – the accident rate has plummeted – I like that too.

Have to add here that “we all brake and re-accelerate” is not good driving either – because you should drive smoothly and know the speed limit of the road and drive to it.

Phil says:
1 April 2011

I see Oxfordshire have decided to switch their cameras back on as casualties at camera sites have risen.

Phil, I don’t think thats true. If cameras indeed were switched back on I would suggests it’s more likely to be because of pressure from the speed camera fanatics.
I’d add, I’m all in favour of safe roads and appropriate speeds but I object to the method of enforcement, the speed camera, which I believe as do the majority of drivers is more a stealth tax initiative than one of safety.
There are the devices which simply display your approaching speed. These are just as if not more effective, and no one gets stung.
There was a camera near where I live along an “A” road. Three years ago or so it was vandalised. Was as a result blood flowing in the gutter thereafter? No, in fact not one accident at that spot since (not one before either as I remember) and it’s not been replaced. So why was that camera there in the first place? Safety or tax, I know which I think?

Chris – Oxfordshire says it is due to increase in deaths and accidents – are you saying they are lying? Why would they? They have to pay to maintain the cameras – no one else.

My anecdotal evidence shows that on the A406 when cameras were introduced in black spots accidents fell and traffic flow smoothed. When such cameras were disabled for some reason the accidents started to rise again temporally.

May I ask if you mount a 24 hour watch on the camera you mention? Or simply that you have not been held up by one when you passed it?

Andrew McCulloch says:
24 February 2018

Very much against. Speed awareness courses full of old safe drivers. Most been driving for 30 years without an accident but we have to sit listening to self righteous piffle about the danger of doing 32 in a 30 ml zone.

So why did you attend one, Andrew?