/ 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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Stuart Ayre says:
27 July 2010

I disapprove of this action, and firmly believe speed cameras do work. They may not be perfect, and agree where possible average speed cameras are preferable, but the only people who appear to object to them are those caught out. I think it has been established that excessive speed does cause accidents – a person hit by a car at 30mph may survive, in excess of that figure and chances of escaping serious decline. This action may save money, but if it results in more accidents surely that will incur extra expense in employment of emergency services and hospital bills. I would preferably like to see more speed cameras, not less, and they threaten no one who adheres to the speed limits.

I think speed cameras should be kept but consider that they should be hidden, and it should be an offece to publicise where they are located. If the police are on the track of some villains then as CID officers they work in plain clothes, surely the same thinking should apply to speed camers. Higher speed accidents when they occur must cause more serious injuries, which then cause roads to be closed for hours whilst the police do in depth investigations which does not help any of us. Speed also generates more noise which is not enjoyed by many. Mind you the marking of speed limits should be far better signed.

Wilst I agree with the statistics given by Stuart Ayre, due to their abuse by the authorities I have to argue for the removal of both speed cameras and the mobile police ‘Taliban’s’ usually manned by civilians, in all but the most dangerous of accident blackspots. In many cases it is apparent that cameras have been placed in positions purely designed to raise revenue rather than prevent accidents. I am not arguing the case for those who blatently or dangerously exceed the speed limit, but with all the distractions evident on the highway and the attention required to drive safely, it is easy sometimes to inadvertantly slip slightly over the limit and it seems to be those motorists that are the target. This ‘Big Brother’ approach particularly applies to ‘mobile cameras’ which are usually secreted out of view of the approaching motorist, for example just over the brow of a hill so that the bonnet of the vehicle is detected before the driver is capable of seeing the camera. There is no discretion, no excuse and even if the car is stolen, not insured, not roadworthy, or the driver is disqualified the fixed penalty for minor speeding infractions is the only thing they are concerned with.

charles says:
27 July 2010

Speed cameras do work.
Oxfordshire may save £600,000 but the Police say that each death on the road cost £1.7 million.
So 1 speeding causing just one death cost 3 times Oxfordshire savings.
Can you explain the logic?

The claim that each death costs £1.7M is clearly an absurdity, doubtless invented by some bureaucrat by summing together costs that in reality do not relate to the accident at all.

I don’t get why they cost so much. Once they’re in place the money’s gone – there’s no getting it back. So all that remains is the cost of running them. Simple? No.

Only a small proportion of the ‘cameras’ actually contain a camera – the flash might go off, but if that bright yellow and grey steel roadside lollipop’s got no camera inside then drive on and don’t worry. I grapevine once said some police forces shared only a few cameras amongst numerous camera boxes, moving them around frequently. Can’t see how that can cost £600,000 per year!

I agree with Beehive3, it is completely fair and logical for speed cameras to be hidden and I think they should be owned and maintained by the police who should keep the proceeds. Like all of us, I believe I am a safe driver but I regularly break the speed limits and by doing so I suppose I put myself and others in danger. If I had no idea where the cameras were – and the police shoiuld move them about quite a lot – I would take a lot more care. However this should be coupled with a simplification of the system. Up to about 3 years ago on an 8 mile stretch of single carriageway linking a main dual carriageway and my home town the limit went from 70 to 30 to 40 to 30 to 40 and to the town 30. Now the sequence is 70,50,40,30,40,30,40,30,40,30,40,30. The road is vaguely the same with two small villages in the middle. I know the road very well but now completly ignore the limit because I am spending far too much time looking at the signs. Complete madness and waste of money.

Margaret says:
27 July 2010

Keep speed cameras – all research shows the higher a car’s speed in an accident the more severe are personal injuries of the people involved.

The priority should clearly be to prevent accidents happening in the first place, not make them less severe if they do happen.

Allan33 says:
3 December 2010

CW: The leading cause by far of fatal collisions and the more serious of the serious injury collisions is speeding, and had the driver(s) concerned NOT been speeding then the collision may very well have been avoided altogether,or just caused damage to the vehicle(s) or minor injuries. Forty per cent of car occupant deaths, for example, happen in single vehicle collisions, and whilst some will be due to the driver falling asleep, the vast majority of them happen precisely because the driver was travelling much too fast, and THAT is precisely why they lost control.

The unexpected is always going to happen sooner or later, and when it DOES, the faster you’re travelling the more likely it is that a collision will occur, and the faster you’re travelling the more likely it is that the injuries sustained will be fatal or serious in the event of a collision. And conversely, the slower you’re travelling……. If all the speeders suddenly started driving within the speed limits the number of people being killed and seriously injured on the roads would be halved overnight. To dismiss Margaret’s point – as you appear to do – is completely disingenuous. But that’s the anti-camera lobby for you!

On the Stocksbridge Bypass the number of fatal collisions has been reduced by around ninety per cent since average speed cameras were installed eight years ago, as it has in other areas where they have been installed, but according to your logic that’s no good because the priority should be “to prevent accidents happening in the first place”. What complete and utter claptrap! Try telling that to someone whose son or daughter – or brother or sister or wife or husband or grandparent or much-loved friend – was killed by someone – or permanently crippled and/or braindamaged – travelling at 50 or 60mph in a thirty mph limit.

Geoffrey Wells says:
28 July 2010

I am no fan of Speed Cameras but do think they have been overdone. Many seem to be in areas where there is no evidence of its being an accident black spot, so perhaps they could be done away with. But notorious accident black spots should have them and ALL those should have working cameras to ensure that they are being successful at keeping speeds down.

On the whole I do try to keep to speed limits at all times but am concerned at the number of drivers who hassle me or overtake unsafely as a result. I put a lot of this down to the proliferation of low speed limits which are causing many drivers to ignore them. How often do you drive on a long stretch of road and find multiple speed limits operating over different sections? Sometimes it is difficult to be aware all the time of the limit on some stretches of road, particularly in view of the proliferation of other road signs, many of which appear to be totally unnecessary.

There should be a review of the amount of "Street Furniture" with a view to removing all but the really necessary. This review should be undertaken by people who have a real interest in driving such as the AA , RAC, IAM etc. and not by council officers who seem to delight in putting up more signs of questionable use.

I agree with Geoffrey Wells – cameras should be used in some places, e.g. outside schools or at junctions with a history of incidents. Unfortunately we currently find far too many of them on open stretches of road where it is hard to see the justification for their presence. It is the latter cases which have led to the widespread view that they are no more than road-side mugging machines.

Allan33 says:
3 December 2010

Geoffrey says that: “Many (speed cameras) seem to be in areas where there is no evidence of its being an accident black spot”. What, like dead bodies strewn around and smashed up cars and other vehicles! Perhaps Geoffrey would like to tell us what IS evidence of an area being an accident blackspot!

The amazing thing is that there are probably some people who read this anti-camera propaganda claptrap and believe it. Safespeed and the ABD and Pistonheads et al spread this particular lie around the internet whenever the opportunity arises, and have been doing so – along with many other lies – for the past six or seven years or more (usually it’s something along the lines of: ‘There’s a camera on a road near where I live and there has never been an accident there….’). And they do so in the knowledge that the vast majority of people don’t know that a camera can only be installed in a location where there has been at least four fatal or serious injury collisions in the previous three years. THAT is the DfT criteria.

Tens of thousands of communities every year request/apply to have a speed camera installed locally because of the deadly menace of speeding drivers, only to be told by the DfT that it’s not possible because the location doesn’t meet with their requirements.

I must confess that speed cameras, over the last few years, have gradually made me more observant of speed limits. These days I don’t nervous energy looking for the cameras – I just slow down to the relevant limit. However, signing should be improved so we know exactly which limit we are in at any time. For example, the sign which warns of a speed camera ahead should always show a reminder of what the speed limit is. I suggest the worst result of removing cameras will be that habitual speeders will be free to rush around again, making things more dangerous for the rest of us. Why not leave the cameras where they are but save costs by switching them off for 6 days every week, at random, so we never know if they are on or off.

Jerry Popham says:
28 July 2010

For me, the speed camera issue is simple: Don’t like being caught by them?, Well, stick to the limit then. Disagree with the limit? Then discuss that and not the cameras.
Less speed means less death, injury and destruction. Sadly, the reality is that we have to balance our wish to travel at some ‘reasonable’ speed with the fact that that speed causes death and injury.
Let the revenue from road-safety actions accrue to the local authorities in line with the new adminisration’s ‘more local responsibility’ policy and help pay for the other cuts while maintaining road safety expenditure.
As efficiently as possible, of course.

Discuss the speed limit? With who? Councils don’t listen, they just do what they want.

pickle says:
28 July 2010

Statistics have shown no real reduction in deaths where speed cameras are located. Two towns in Belgium tried removing all stop signs, lines,traffic lights etc. with the result drivers have to drive more carefully and accident rates went down. Much the same goes for the cameras – instead of being distracted by the cameras drivers will be able to give more attention to the road and other traffic.
There should be more education on the skill needed to ‘read’ the road – and it is a real skill which not all drivers have.

David Keen says:
29 July 2010

I’m all for safety cameras. Why would anyone want to get rid of them (apart from the running costs)? Only those who habitually speed could object to them.

Andy Hale says:
29 July 2010

I’ve never been ‘done’ for speeding, but I loathe speed cameras. I feel intimidated by them and I’m glad that for 15 years up until last September I lived in North Yorkshire where there are none. Whenever I travelled to other parts of the country I felt I was under big brother type observation, rather than being free.
I don’t like the fact that it’s likely that ‘locals’ won’t get caught by speedtraps but unwitting visitors/new residents might be. That seems unfair.
I also don’t like them being placed just inside speed limits on main dual carriageways into cities. I’m sure the sudden braking to reduce speed dramatically actually causes accidents.

If safety cameras were only used in accident black spots where speed was a factor in the majority of the recorded accidents they would be accepted more. It has been established that many are sited in locations where there were few accidents and as has been said many drivers hit the brakes when they see a camera even though they are under the speed limit thus creating a dangerous situation for themselves and others.

The statistics in Swindon are interesting. Where a camera broke down and was not repaired the accident rate remained unchanged over a considerable timescale, and this led to all of the cameras being decommissioned. There has been no increase in the accident rate since this was done. The facts speak for themselves.

Nortones2 says:
30 July 2010

Re "There has been no increase in the accident rate since this was done. The facts speak for themselves." I’d be very interested to see what evidence is held for this belief. Is there any?

Chris Brunton says:
29 July 2010

The problem with speed cameras, is that they only measure speed. Most serious accidents also involve alcohol, drugs, inexperienced drivers, mobile phones, unsafe vehicles, stolen vehicles – none of which are picked up by speed camera’s. Most ‘speeders’ are usually professional and otherwise safe drivers who missed a speed change and most advocates of speed cameras do little driving. Have you noticed that there are usually speed cameras at the END of road works – no safety implications there! Also, how many number plates have ‘unusual’ fonts or spacing – this also means the camera’s cannot read them as well. If there were ANPR camera’s where the insurance, tax and MOT was also checked as well as speed, and dodgy number plates incurred the same penalty as speeding, the number of accidents would really reduce dramatically.

Peter Vaughan says:
29 July 2010

I have rarely heard anything so stupid as getting rid of speed cameras. They are proven in independent research to cut down accidents and deaths in particular areas – so are we expecting boy racers and others idiots on our roads to automatically slow down when requested to do so? You must be joking. The only reason they slow down is because of the fear of a fine and points on the licence. In my opinion, we should have more speed cameras and more radar guns / speed camera vans. Just talk to the families of those who have died in road accidents, talk to firemen, police traffic officers, paramedics, and doctors who have to attend fatal accidents. It is a no brainer.

Your definition of ‘independent’ is clearly not the same as mine.

I questioned the sites of our nearest cameras.
They are to the north of the turning that I use to access the ‘main road’.
My reason for the question was that about one person per year has died in the half mile to the south of the junction but hardly any accidents have happened to the north. Those northern accidents have been almost exclusively fender benders or less injuries than death.
I was told that the high rate of accidents dictated the location of the cameras. I guess that bent paint work and relatively minor injuries count for more than deaths with the camera folk.
Personally, I would like the cameras to be in the right place, i.e. where they might slow down traffic to the 40Mph limit and save people’s lives. In one recent accident speed was a factor along with a heavy rain storm, one dead one in a coma with brain damage, two seriously injured, two cars wreaked, driver lost speed on nearly bald tyres and doing at least 60 Mph. Clearly the cameras in the WRONG PLACE were not a deal of use in that case.

Roger-roger says:
30 July 2010

Since the introduction of speed cameras, the rate of reduction in road accidents has generally leveled off. This does not really confirm the effectiveness of speed cameras. I have not seen any evidence that the majority of serious accidents occur when someone is exceeding the speed limit. They often occur when someone is driving too fast for the conditions, or not paying attention or too tired. I am in favour of limits in towns etc, but not on open roads as it seems stupid to me to have the same limit on a busy road in fog as on a good road on a clear night with no-one about. People should be encouraged to think more and be more considerate rather than simply assume if they are driving to the limit they are fine. I also find myself spending too much time with my eyes on the speedo rather than the road, and I often realise I do not know what the speed limit is at the moment because it is easy to miss the signs.

Durham manages very well without speed cameras and has one of the best accident rates. Probably because drivers there can concentrate on the road ahead and not constantly checking their speedometers and trying to remember what the current abitary speed limit is.

Paul A –

It is probably more due to the very low traffic density in Durham.

You should KNOW what the speed limit is – you are supposed to be aware AT ALL TIMES the traffic conditions in front – at the sides – and behind – Not drive in some sort of dream.

Paul Garrish says:
30 July 2010

If cameras were outside schools and hospitals and turned on between (say) 8.30 and 9.30 then 3-4 no-one would complain, but putting them on open roads with a lower than expected limit, or at the bottom of a hill is just money grabbing.

Also, Northumberland police didn’t use any fixed cameras (just a mobile camera I believe) – they used the smiley face speed displays – and their accident rate dropped lower than any other county.