/ 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.

Rupert Moor says:
28 January 2011

I think they should be kept, and in fact put on all traffic lights at major, and many minor, junctions, as anything deterring people from speeding or jumping lights is a good thing. But they should also be tied in with tougher fines, points and sentencing. If people get caught drink driving, it’s a total and permanent loss of licence. Come on people, get real, driving is a privilege, not a right!

I totally agree – I see so many incompetent drivers who think that speed doesn’t kill.

I think far more life bans should be used – as well as car crushing for repeat offenders. I also think lifetime bans should apply to drugged drivers too.

John Surrey says:
28 January 2011

The previous comments I would suspect were written by someone working for the ‘Camera Partnerships’. Please lets have an open and honest debate about any merits or shortcommings of cameras. The reality is only more police patrols on the road will encourage good driving habits. Cameras do not detect drunk drivers, drug drivers and anti social driving such as tailgateing.
Watching cars slow at fixed cameras demonstrates they are concentrating more on the camera rather than the traffic and pedestrians around them, often breaking sharply at approach and as soom as the lines in the road are clear they accelerate away. Wo any driver behind who is not attentive. This is also not very green on the enviroment as more fuel consumed and more wear and tear on the vechicles. Last year a local young boy Joel aged 17 was knocked off his push bike and killed by a drunk driver at 9pm in the evening. Speed cameras would not have stopped this, police patrols may have by discourageing this illegal activity. On financial basis local council have to fund these cameras but do not receive the revenue which is swallowed up by central goverment. The money would be spent better locally on road calming measures and extra local police traffic patrols.
This is not meant to be a rant but I suspect many responsible drivers with children and who have known personally people killed on roads will have similar views.

Rupert Moor says:
28 January 2011

Definitely not a member of any camera partnership.

We need more police, yes.
We need lower speed limits in built up areas (schools, high streets, etc.), and on motorways, yes.
We need much tougher sentences that truly deter the idiots and ‘I know better’ brigade, yes.
We need a zero alcohol limit, yes.
We need much tougher and more realistic driving tests, perhaps with psychometric testing, yes.
We need regular retesting for everyone, and then annually or bi-annual above say 70, yes.

And yes, we need cameras for speed reduction and light jumpers.

Speed cameras are required to prevent overconfident, selfish people from speeding and to act as to deter those just in a rush and not thinking straight. Yes I completely agree that driving if a skill, and it is:-
Inappropriate speed
Inattention or lack of concentration
Badly maintained vehicles
Inclement weather
that kills/ harms. However, the speed allowed on a road is what has been reasonable deemed (using previous safety data) as the same maximum if all the above items are not part of the equation. A skilled driver therefore notes the max speed and then reduces their speed if any of the above factors apply. Therefore if it is a 30mph speed limit outside a school, it is bad weather and school pick up time then a skilled driver will drive at 5 mph. A wreckless, overconfident driver will drive at 40mph and then complain that speed cameras are an infringement on his personal freedom preventing him to drive how he wants and feels confident/ skilled! to do and of course if a child runs out- well the child should not be so stupid. Maybe the anti- camera drivers will only change their mind when it is their loved one that gets hurt from a driver driving over the maximall safe agreed speed.
We need to remember that speed cameras are only a problem to those who are prepared to think of their own needs first- rather than others and are prepared to break the law to do so. Sometimes to live in a society we need law and order to live in harmony. The camera will only get you if you are doing more than the max (in optimal conditions) safe speeds. Most of us need not be afraid.

I’m all for safe motoring. I don’t approve of inappropriately exessive speeding or any of the many other dangerous driving pratices like tall gating, unsafe overtaking, etc.etc.
I also don’t approve of a so called safety measure (speed cameras) that just ambushes and takes money from people. There is no actual physical or visible speed control and the measure is very localised, many get to know where the camera is and just speed up after passing.
Speed is admittedly an imprortant factor with regard to safety but only one of many. I’d suggest tail gating and inapproprite overtaking results in as many or perhaps more accidents and injuries.
My approach would be to use flashing speed signs which display your speed which I believe are far more effective at actually slowing people down, cheaper and more acceptable to the motoring public.
I’d also like to see better education and more police patrols to spot all the other bad driving habits people develop.

Shoreham says:
28 January 2011

Yes,we do need speed cameras as far too many people behind the wheel of a vehicle become a law unto themselves, and I am not referring to just youngsters. With other villagers,I operated a local speed watch at the behest of local residents and the Parish Council who were concerned about the excessive speed through the village high street passed the primary school. Who did we regularly catch exceeding the limit by more than 10%, the very people who had made the initial complaint! We caught the buses, plenty of delivery vans and many of the same local vehicles on numerous occasions. The prime example was a young mother having dropped her children off at the school who then passed our speed device at 46 mph (in a 30mph limit) and whilst talking on her mobile phone at the time! To add to the insult she had a back window sticker saying ‘little person board’. As with many others we ‘caught’ only plenty of points on her licence and a heavy fine would make any difference to her dangerous and anti-social attitude whilst behind the wheel.

Probably a naive idea, but I always reckon that travelling within the speed limit is a way of stating that one believes in the rule of legitimate law that comes from us having a democracy. Conversely, to me, anyone who deliberately (rather than occasionally, accidentally) exceeds the speed limit is making a statement that they don’t believe in the whole structure of democracy and law and order, and would rather have anarchy. Therefore any actions ranging that remind people of the need to obey the law seem useful in improving our society. This can be anything from a letter following up a village Speedwatch session to a fine resulting from a Gatso camera. Always provided, of course that cameras are sited sensibly and fines are used used to fund them.

PeterFairhead says:
29 January 2011

May I just add that the camera illustrated appears to an AVERAGE speed camera. These are usually used at roadworks though counties like Nottinghamshire use them on long stretches of permanent 50mph roads. Slowing down near cameras is infurating for the driver behind you at the best of times but there is no point in slowing down near AVERAGE speed cameras. This will have virtually no effect on the average speed you have travelled between two sets and just causes everyone else to brake unexpectedly and unnecessarily. The wrong illustration may unfortunately increase people’s misunderstanding of the two main types of camera used on our roads.

PeterFairhead says:
29 January 2011

No one has ever queried why policeman are to be regarded as experts on Road Safety. Their expertise is law enforcement. Their attendance at accidents no more makes them experts than an ambulance or fire service driver. Their attendance at accidents is not ruled by the need to find out how an accident occurred but to collect evidence with a view to effecting a prosecution. The laws are passed by politicians who have little more insight into driver attitudes than you or I and is heavily weighted in favour of police recommendations. Most police policies favour easily enforceable laws, while many organisations are unable to move away from the traditional “Police make the agenda” attitudes.
The Which survey actually reflects a statistic I was told as long ago as 1971 – that around 85% of the public try to drive in what they consider a reasonable manner while 15% will drive in a manner which may put themselves and others at risk.
If you want to road safety statistics to be properly analyzed, try the Radio Four statistics programme. Otherwise they will be produced by the organisation which needs to spin themselves in a favourable light.
Several people on this thread have highlighted the fact that driver attitudes are important. While programmes like Top Gear and TV adverts continue to perpetuate the myth that driving can somehow be fun, or that the way you drive can be an extension of your ego, rather than a necessary journey which involves potentially dangerous interaction with others, you’re on a hiding to nothing.
To approximately quote an old Road Safety Officer – From someone who drives to some old bishop who wants to stand up in the House Of Lords, where do you find an impartial observer of Road Safety?

Dave Dee says:
29 January 2011

I am a little disappointed that Which appear not to have published factually correct information, just having checked one or two of the camera partnership sites I find different information, e.g. the Sussex site indicates that they have 60 housings but these do not all have cameras in them, they are moved between housings. It would be nice to see the questions sent to these organisations because I suspect that they were answered differently by these organisations. Were these reponses challenged, because the Sussex one must have seemed strange. I would also suspect the statement by Clare “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”, are the RAC saying it is the only solution? My faith in Which is somewhat reduced. I also have read the 30 odd comments, most if not all have a point but it does amuse me how some will fixate on a point and think that when they have rubbished that point they have won the speeding argument. There is a problem and it would be nice to think that all sides could sit and listen to each other.

Affects of speed – doesn’t just kill. Can pollute and drain the wallet

Reduces accidents – from my experience I would have had far more accidents if I had been driving faster – especially in built up areas.
Costs of accidents – repairs, insurance (including mine, thanks).
Could be difference between life and death – worse still, someone elses.
Costs on support and health services.
Environmental – extra noise (tyre/engine) and poisonous fumes. I live next to a main road – you can hear/smell the difference.
Deters more vulnerable / nervous drivers from enjoying the benefits or from driving altogether
Speed usually associated with excessive accelleration and braking – extra wear / tear /repair / maintenance, reduced life of car.
Policing / monitoring, etc costs.

I am sure people could add a few more.

If you want to speed, drive recklessly, there are places for it. Go pit your wits against like minded folk at racing tracks, demolition derbys, not me please.

Conrad says:
29 January 2011

The only ones that don’t like speed cameras are those that speed.
If you don’t break the law then you have nothing to worryabout.
There should be more, all should be working & were posible they should be the average speed cameras to stop people slowing down just for the camera

Chas says:
29 January 2011

All this correspondence and “research” sems to me to be a lot of time wasting and much rubbish!!
So, I’ve not read it all!!………….but my brief comments are:
1] Speed cameras are a distraction to your driving – the driver focuses on the speedo – not the traffic etc.!! Ooops!
2] Gawping at the speedo in long runs of restriction lulls the driver to doze off!!! Zzzzzzzz!
3] Obay the speed restrictions and save fuel. Now there’s a bonus! Hoorah!
4] Leave earlier; only a few minutes ‘cos by the end of your journey you don’t loose much time and it’s more comfortable for all concerned – and you’re less likely to have that speeding fine!!

Speed cameras are no more of a distraction than anything else, if a distraction at all – if not speeding.
They are visible and have prior warning.
So even if someone is speeding and driving with due care and attention, they can slow down for them.
If driving too fast and irresponsibly to do so, then such drivers deserve what they get.

Just gawping straight ahead doing 80/90 can cause drivers to nod off. Thankfully I woke up in time heading for a barrier. Glancing at the speedo takes less than a second – far shorter than changing CDs/radio stations or lighting cigarettes, or turning to talk to someone, or looking at the rear of a blond, or glaring at ah irritating driver, etc.
Glancing at the speedo as well as mirrors, signs, other vehicles, etc helps keep drivers alert.
Doesn’t take long to get used to the speed so alert drivers can tell when they speed up – half second glance will confirm, ease foot of gas. Simples.

Wilky says:
29 January 2011

There should be more emphasis on penalising motorway middle lane hoggers (and right hand lane hoggers on dual carriageways), people who use a mobile phone whilst driving and generally the ridiculous lack of decent driving stadards in this country. I’m all for big fines on those things, that’ll raise the treasury some money!

I have yet to see a cogent argument for the removal of speed cameras of any type – Gatso, average etc. I have also yet to meet someone caught speeding who has not admitted privately to speeding most of the time and therefore in honesty, got what they deserved. What upsets the anti lobby is that they are potentially 100% effective in detecting infringement, which is not fair – as if it were some kind of game. They are only a distraction to someone who would otherwise speed. If speed limits are well signed, nobody caught exceeding the limit can object to prosecution, however the evidence is generated. Often the arguments against cameras are actually against the speed limits themselves, which of course is not the same issue.

It is duplicitous of the Government to blame the loss of cameras on Local Authority decisions. A few years ago, LA’s were allowed to extract running costs from revenue and only send any surplus to the Treasury. However in 2007, the last Government made them send ALL revenue to the Treasury, hence the current dilemma. If the Coalition simply returned to the old arrangement, the financial problem would be solved at a stroke. As it is, they risk revenues falling sharply, shooting themselves and pretty much everyone else in the foot. In Oxfordshire I believe an enlightened and supportive police force plans to assist camera funding from its revenue from driver retaining courses. Where there is a will it seems, there is a way.

Ardnahoe says:
30 January 2011

Long live the speed camera!

And if that means all the dangerous petrol heads are fined more and thus reduce my tax bill (or help preserve facilities that are under pressure) that’s even better.

There’s a perfect, never-fails, way to avoid speed camera fines!

What is it?




If the threat of speed cameras helps to make the roads a little safer in areas where there have been serious road incidents in the past (and not just places where they can catch unwary motorists in quiet rural areas) then I think the cameras should remain in place.

Although the logic was flawed, there was a very clear set of rules and a scoring system to control where cameras could and could not be positioned – not enough points = no cameras. Scoring was based largely (but not exclusively) on accident history, so I don’t understand how cameras can be positioned solely to raise money as some would claim. Comments here are in the main very much for cameras, but the overall survey results show the opposite. Again, I don’t understand.

David Field says:
30 January 2011

If motorists drove reasonably and sensibly we wouldn’t need speed cameras or police patrol cars. as we know there are a few who push the boundaries recklessly and spoil it for the rest. I recently witnessed a Ferrari driver using all three lanes to maintain very fast progress on a busy motorway. I enjoy driving and still do a lot of driving even though I am retired. I have covered more than 1.5 million miles since I started at age 18. On clear roads with no pedestrians I feel 70 is a bit slow, having said that at present I am driving a bit slower to combat the increased fuel prices and am averaging over 58 mpg in my 2 litre Mondeo diesel estate on my regular run to Portsmouth.

In our crowded little island we have to have some rules so that we can exist together. Speed cameras are just one way of getting us to do this. They make me feel uneasy at times but I cannot accept that we should just drive at whatever speed we feel is ok for us personally. Average speed cameras have worked well to make the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon safer but they dont stop us driving too close and of course we still have ‘expert’ drivers who come on from side roads and travel at high speed until they encounter their first set of cameras. I, like most of us think that I drive well, but I know that the unexpected is never far away and no amount of self belief can alter that.