/ Motoring

Speed cameras – should they stay or should they go?

Speed cameras on a motorway

Remember the outcry last summer when one council announced it was switching off speed cameras? Now Which? Car has discovered that over half the fixed cameras in England and Wales don’t work at any one time.

No, this isn’t some mass switch-off, but evidence of the different outlooks on Gatsos, and the resulting strategies being implemented by different local authorities around England and Wales.

Sussex has 60 cameras and all are operational, while only 10% of Lancashire’s 287 yellow boxes are snapping motorists at any one time. Four counties: Cleveland, Durham, North Yorkshire and Wiltshire don’t have any fixed cameras at all.

So it seems opinion is well and truly divided among officialdom – as well as motorists – on the worth or worthlessness of speed cameras.

Do Gatsos make roads safer?

And that’s no surprise – conflicting reports of their ability to cut accidents have been running rife for some time. Eighteen months before the Oxfordshire switch-off, Swindon did the same, and reported no change in its accident rate. But just last month the RAC predicted that 800 more people would be killed or seriously injured on the UK’s roads if all speed cameras were switched off.

While I respect the RAC’s opinion, I strongly disagree that Gatsos are the only solution to cutting accidents – there’s far more to it than that.

And 83% of the people we asked in a recent survey agreed, stating that fixed cameras only stop people speeding at specific locations, and don’t change behaviour generally. And behaviour is precisely what needs to be changed to eliminate the hundreds of needless deaths that happen on our roads each year.

Other road safety strategies

The police – who have been repeatedly attacked for helping to rake in cash from speeding motorists – appear to be looking at the wider issue too. Earlier this year they announced plans to extend their option of speed awareness courses instead of points, and a fine to a wider number of offenders.

At present, only motorists caught speeding below 39mph in 30mph zones are offered the option of a speed awareness course. But this could be extended to motorists caught doing 35-42mph in a 30mph zone, 46-53mph in a 40mph zone and 57-64mph in a 50mph zone.

As well as helping the public see the police in a more positive light, this could make a bigger impact on road safety awareness in general, as participants will be forced to spend some time thinking about the potential consequences of speeding.

And this move could work alongside other road safety strategies – better educating our children for a start, and improving driver training are just two areas that spring to mind.

Make speed camera data available

Another positive move that will help everyone decide whether speed cameras should stay or go is the government proposal to make speed camera data more widely available. The intention to make information about the effectiveness of speed cameras available to the public was announced in December, and it could start to happen as soon as April.

This should at least provide a starting point for the much-needed wider debate on what is the best overall approach to stopping people from dying on our roads.

Dagger says:
31 January 2011

I think that speed is good if you can do it somewhere safe. I mean what is the point of developing cars which can do in excess of 150 miles per hour if the maximum speed limit is 70 miles per hour?
There are probably no sensible arguements for suggesting that speed cameras should be done away with but alternatively there are very few places where people who enjoy speed can actually go to enjoy speed. There are also the ‘drivers’ who stick to 30 mph even on 60 mph+ roads. I personally find this infuriating. There is also factual evidence (apparently) which states that modern cars are capable of stopping a lot quicker at speed that the highway code would have us believe. The problem is that people do die on our roads and sometimes that is due to drivers driving too quickly but as suggested elswhere on this thread there can be other reasons also.

Overall, I would like to be able to drive fast because I enjoy driving at speed and pushing both myself and my car but I don’t want to injure or kill anyone in the process so because of the legal ramifications I drive within safe driving restrictions, but only because of the restrictions.

Trainer says:
1 February 2011

If you want to drive fast, take your car on a track day. Pleased that you have a responsible attitude to the speed limits – they are there for a reason. All hazard signs and speed limits are re-active, not pro-active. They are there because somebody has been killed or seriously injured.

Gyro says:
3 February 2014

Well no! a track day requires a ROLL CAGE! and you have 100% sped before so playing the ignorance game is silly. Residential and near schools or town centres sometimes need speed limits (infact i think many winding country roads do because they are a death trap), motorways need higher speed limits. National speed limits are from the 70 or 80s, cars these days can handle 80mph i think that should be the new national speed limit. Limits should be in place but they are over used and this is causing congestion, congestion can cause accidents, pile ups, aggression, road rage. The fact is if limits are higher people don’t feel they have to go 50mph in a 30mph zone because they were held up in traffic earlier. If you are going 30mph because some guy is sticking to the limit plus congestion, as soon as the road is clear your going 50mph because your late! Whereas if someone was just rushing on a clear road he might go 40mph instead of 50 in 30 zone

David says:
3 February 2014

Speed in the right place and whilst fully concentrating on the road is reasonably safe. I’ve been driving since before the 70 limit at speeds upto 120 mph and never had or caused an accident. I have had many bumps at speeds below 20 and some when stationary. All but two when I have been run into. Your comment on people driving at 30 in a 60 plus zone is valid but what about the drivers doing 60+ in a 30 zone. Nearly half the drivers on the road travel well above the 30 or 40 speed limits. I think that average speed cameras would be much better the you wouldn’t get the sharp last second braking then hard acceleration to the next camera. A day on a race track is a good place to push yourself and your car to the limit, and could be cheaper than a fine for 99 mph.

Josie W says:
31 January 2011

Yes I think speed cameras are essential and those who speed should pay the price. Speed limits are set for everyone’s safety and there is never any excuse for breaking them. This kind of driving is not only dangerous it is also envrionmentally unfriendly. Excessive acceleration and braking is not just wasting fuel, it also pollutes the air we breathe.

Arcturus says:
31 January 2011

We all travel at high speed without incident. Speed is not the issue. The issue is the impact and preventing the impact. Pedestrians should be taught to cross the road at safe places using crossings where possible. Drivers should slow down when approaching hazards. Road safety is a joint responsibility. I have no objection to road safety cameras being used to determine facts. I object to road cameras being used to penalise the motorist. Has anyone heard of a road safety camera being used to exonerate a driver in an incident involving a pedestrian and car?


Have you had a tyre blow out at say 100 mph – that “incident” can be fatal.

Pedestrians are taught to cross roads safely – but just like many car drivers who speed -they ignore the law – and if hit at over 30 mph are likely to die,

They are not road safety cameras normally really – they are speed cameras. Though there are cameras that capture careless driving like yellow box infringements – or traffic light cameras – Both actually take a short recording that is possible to view to appeal the decision.

Trainer says:
1 February 2011

As recently discovered by which, most counties have far more fixed camera sites than they have cameras. However, you do not know which boxes have cameras in. The resultant effect is to calm the traffic to the posted speed limit, job done. I cannot understand why people get so wound-up about speed cameras calling them revenue earners etc. If you do not want to pay the fine and contribute the revenue, don’t speed, simple! I believe Oxfordshire is re-instating their cameras because the average speed has increased significantly since switching them off. We have CCTV cameras everywhere these days, we obviously need cameras to make us comply with the Law.

Driver2 says:
1 February 2011

Speed doesn’t kill people, bad drivers do. It is quite safe to drive quickly when conditions allow, even above the limit. It it wrong to associate driving over a speed limit as unconditionally dangerous. I have followed someone driving through my village at 29mph and continue at that speed past the school with excited children (it was 15:00) running around on both sides of the road! The driver no doubt believed she was perfectly “safe” as she was driving below the limit. If the government was serious about road safety they could do two things: 1) make it compulory to pass an advanced test (one that includes motorway driving and condition awareness for example) within 5 years of passing the current driving test, and 2) make anyone causing an accident re-take the driving test. That won’t happen of course, because it’s expensive and unpopular, better to limit everyone to arbitrary speed limits.

I think Driver2 has a good point here. All we need is a law that accommodates variable weather conditions, make/model of car, driver qualifications/ability and whether or not the ABS is working. Nobody is saying driving above a limit (within reason) is unconditionally dangerous and will kill someone – it is all about the balance of risk and is it worth risking a life (even as a remote risk) for the sake of a few mph? Nor is anyone suggesting that cameras solve all road safety problems, just that they are a highly effective method of addressing one of the main contributors to accidents, injury and death.

Frederick Phillips says:
1 April 2011

tia junior, this is spot on – but unfortunately perhaps a little subtle for the general standard of debate on this issue…

Jonny says:
1 February 2011

In the February issue of Which? you ask “What do motorists really think about speed cameras?”. A more interesting question would be “What do pedestrians and cyclists think about speed cameras?” as they are often the innocent victims of drivers who seem to think shaving 2 minutes off their journey times is worth risking other people’s lives for.

Ultimately, speed limits are the law. If you disagree with that law, by all means write to your MP or start a petition – but you cannot just ignore it. Speed cameras are simply a way of enforcing the law as it stands – if you don’t break the law, you’ve nothing to fear from them.

As for the argument that they distract drivers – well that’s only because, thanks to the bellyaching of “motorist groups”, they’re all painted bright yellow and are pointed out on people’s sat navs. If they were hidden and their locations kept secret, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Though I agree with most of what you say – The distraction element I disagree with.- If they were hidden then drivers would be constantly distracted by oncoming drivers illegally flashing at them to warn them to slow down – as in another topic here.

I also fail to see why a speed camera would be a distraction in any case. – A driver should (must) know the speed limit and drive below that. – no excuses.

They can cause accidents if the car in front, which is within the limit, slows down just becuase they see a speed camera.

What I find more even more annoying is the inconsistency of councils implementing a 20mph limit. Where I live the adjacent street to a school is 20mph but the school road is 30mph – both are normal residential areas – and then part of the next road is 30 and part is 20. Ludicrous. No wonder no one sticks to the speedlimit as they havent a clue what it is as the signage is rubbish and chopping and changing doesnt help

Surely you shouldn’t drive so close to the car in front? If you are so close that you crash into the car in front when the brakes go on – this is called “tail gating” .

If you don’t obey the speed limit you are breaking the law – That is not a debate,

You should be aware of the speed limit however inconsistent

Jem, this might mean you are driving to close to it.

More news tonight about cameras being switched off around Birmingham due to lack of funds, although most if not all schemes were self-funding. Slight of hand by the Government – costs must be covered locally, ALL revenue must be sent to the Treasury. Ludicrous and clear where the blame lies.

The comment was that on seeing a speed camera drivers often slow down even if they are driving within the limit already and I consider that a dangerous effect of speed cameras as it might cause an accident rather than act as a deterrent

Yes, if you are driving too close, and please dont tell me you never have as I wouldnt believe you,
(would love to add a smiley here!) an accident may occur.

John Lambert says:
4 February 2011

In dangerous places where “going too fast” must be curtailed then I am fully in favour of trying to hold back those drivers who are not sufficiently self-disciplined. However, in all these discussions there is hardly a word about what is the “right” speed; and there is certainly no consistency in setting those limits.As drivers, we need to have faith in the speed limit, and consequently in those that set them. Where is the evidence of that today? The limits set are often laughable.Here in Suffolk we can travel at 50 and 60 in narrow lanes but as soon as we meet an urban dual carriageway the limit is set at 40 and sometimes 30. Madness. Its no wonder drivers are frustrated. We have to get a standard on setting limits; it has to be applied throughout the country; and drivers have to “buy in” to those standards.

As a driver I have faith in the speed limit set – That’s why I obey the speed limit set.. I see dozens disobeying the same limit. – I don’t feel frustrated – or only at idiots who disobey the limits set. The reason for speed cameras is usually the fact that crashes occurred at those places.

But it is not just speed limits – it is poor – irresponsible – stupid – careless – incompetent drivers

Incident a couple of days ago – driver ignored the clearly marked road signs completely – stupidly obeyed his sat nav – turned into a one way road the wrong way – had a crash that killed his daughter.

Until such idiots are banished from the road completely along with the 1 million uninsured drivers then speed cameras are totally essential – along with other road signs.

The reason for the difference in speed limits is the density of traffic – and it is getting denser.

I use a long winding country road – at one time I never met an oncoming vehicle – now it is usually around 10 cars on the same stretch of road that is not wide enough to pass safely except in certain places. So the chances of a crash are 10 times higher – especially when the oncoming driver is driving too fast.

Arcturus says:
11 February 2011

I have little faith in those setting speed limits. I remember a public discussion on reducing a speed limit in an area where getting to the speed limit would have been worthy of a life time achievement award due to the construction of the road and weight of traffic!

Reading the comments I think I can safely say there are idiots on the road. At times I am one of those idiots. Life throws the odd curve ball into your life and you are distracted. Is a moment of human failing going to kill anyone? Most of the time no. Drivers need to think about driving safely in the prevailing conditions. Most people do drive safely and watch out for the momentary lapses that everyone has from time to time. I do not believe in speed limits. I do believe in living a long life and taking care on the road. I have compassion for the man who killed his daughter.

I have far more compassion for the daughter

If you do not see a speed camera you are not concentrating on your driving.
If you are not concentrating on your driving god help you and those around you.

Interesting isn’t it?

Oxford is bringing back the speed cameras because of the large increase in deaths and injuries in crashes since they switched them off

Seems that the average driver cannot be trusted to drive at an optimum speed or carefully enough – as I implied at the time.

More Speed cameras – Speed kills – yes I know that it isn’t the only reason – but speed does kill.

Jonny says:
1 April 2011

The thing I find fascinating is how people who would otherwise describe themselves as “law abiding” think it’s somehow OK to break this particular law. I know people who get angry if they see someone, for example, dropping litter, but think nothing of speeding! Of course dropping litter is illegal and bad – which is why I’d never do it – but so is speeding. And litter ain’t going to kill anyone.

If people believe the speed limits are too low, they should campaign for a change in the law – set up a pressure group, write your their MP, whatever. But, as things stand, this is the law and you can’t just pick and choose which laws you obey.

Totally and utterly agree – I have no problem with a campaign to raise the speed limit on a particular stretch of road – but not to disregard the already set speed limit.

But they then complain when they are caught.

Somewhat similar to the recent census form – they don’t want to fill it in – Yet it is the Law.

Tia Junior says:
1 April 2011

Not that it makes a difference to the legality, but the vast majority of drivers caught speeding acknowledge that they do it much of the time. The honest ones accept that being caught at some stage was inevitable. Attitudes to breaking the law are largely influenced by the chances of getting away with it. Cameras are only unpopular in some quarters because they potentially reduce this chance to zero.

I think the punishment has a lot to do with it.

Too many complain that ” I was only doing 52 in a 50 mile limit”

Only 30% of cameras are switched on at any one time – drivers normally do not know which ones.

The Oxfordshire “experiment” where every camera was switched off – showed far too many drivers ignored the speed limit and crashed.

David Field says:
1 April 2011

Ordinary speed cameras are useless.as they only control the speed within a few yards of the camera. Average speed cameras would keep a much greater length of road under control. The number of drivers breaking hard just before a camera shows that they have no regard for the speed limit as they accelerate after getting out of range of the camera. I would like to see more road marked with the speed limit as the normal speed signs ore easily hidden by foliage or large vehicles parked as it is much easier to see what is ahead as it is to see what is high up to the left. Most drivers don’t really concentrate on the job in hand , but are thinking of something else, having deep conversations or distracted by something other than driving.

Actually that is not true – if you obey the speed limit which most people do – Those that brake hard then accelerate are bad and incompetent drivers – and braking the law.

When you are driving you should concentrate on all aspects of driving – otherwise you are equally a bad and incompetent driver –

These people should be caught and prosecuted. There is no excuse for bad and incompetent driving..

Ordinary Speed cameras were put there (at least in my area of London) to stop the accidents at black spots on arterial – and they work – Just as they did in Oxfordshire . Average speed cameras are more useless in urban areas as the distances involved would be very small (though fine on motorways with no turnoffs) – and would not stop people actually speeding then slowing down either.

David Field says:
7 March 2012

Speed camera’s do slow road users, many people drive considerably over the speed limit, particularly in the 30 limit. Cameras should stay.