/ 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.