Speed Cameras

Mark appeared on the BBC’s Daily Politics show this afternoon to discuss speed cameras. To view his film, click here.

In October Swindon was the first local authority to scrap funding for speed cameras. Now several other councils across the country look set to follow its lead.

Responsive local councils across the nation are listening to increasingly dismayed residents who have long suspected that speed cameras are more about money-raising than safety on our roads. With this in mind I thought I would do some research under Freedom of Information legislation to understand the extent of this issue. It made for some interesting reading.

The number of fixed penalties and prosecutions for speeding offences detected by speed cameras has risen astronomically over the past decade. In 1996 there were 262 200 speed camera offences. By 2006, the most recent year for which we have statistics, the overall number of offences has risen sevenfold to 1 865 000.

As any driver will tell you, the real problem with fixed penalty notices is the effect they have on the totting up disqualification scheme. Once you reach a total of twelve points accumulated over the course of a three year period you’ll be banned from driving for six months, other than in cases of exceptional hardship. The prevalence of speed cameras, invariably installed on much–vaunted safety grounds, has led to this exceptional growth in fixed penalty notices – and with it revenue to the Treasury.

Not satisfied at being awash with cash, the latest idea from the Department for Transport is to introduce a new offence of ‘Extreme Speeding’ for exceeding the speed limit by twenty miles an hour. This will get you a six point penalty. Superficially this might seem fairly reasonable – a case of bringing the most dangerous drivers fully to book. However, it only makes sense if minor, technical speeding offences are treated rather more leniently. Needless to say a suggestion that drivers should only get two, rather than three points, for only going slightly over the speed limit was dismissed out of hand.

The intention of parliament in disqualifying people from driving was – and is – only to take the most dangerous drivers off the road. Similarly the primary use of speed cameras should be to improve safety not to raise revenue. The conventional wisdom that speed is the best measure of poor driving should be challenged, as well as the idea that the use of speed cameras makes us better drivers.

There is evidence to suggest that on roads with speed cameras, drivers spend more time watching their speedometer and prioritising speed over driving safely. There are around one million motorists with no insurance, tax or licence and this group has been found to be nine times more likely to cause a crash. With speed cameras alone drivers with unregistered vehicles or incorrect registrations evade prosecution. The biggest causes of road accidents can generally only be spotted by transport police on patrol and yet as the number of speed cameras has mushroomed, there has been an almost twenty per cent decline in the number of traffic police in England and Wales over the past decade.

I am not speaking up for the small group of very bad and aggressive drivers. What I object to is the excessive use of speed cameras and overzealous penalising of drivers. Driving at 60mph at night time on an empty 50mph dual carriageway for instance does not endanger lives.

The use of speed cameras has transformed the disqualification system into one of Russian Roulette. The more you drive the greater your chance of getting a ticket. So under the current system it is not bad drivers who are getting the ban – it is the motorists who spend most time on the road. In short, the workings of an inequitable points system have become an occupational hazard for responsible, regular motorists.