I’ve recently been invoived in a deep argument on a mailing list over the thorny issue of speed cameras. Digging around, I’ve found an awful lot of information about them that never seems to get any attention, thanks largely to the government’s reluctance to take on the powerful and vocal motoring lobby.
So I decided to take a single news story, that’s fairly typical of the kind of thing that’s being published about speed cameras, and have a look at it. The story was chosen pretty much at random – but it repeats much of the blatant falsehoods that have become common currency in the debate.
BAN GREEDY SPEED CAMERAS
Feb 12 2004
By Jeff Edwards
BRITAIN’S leading policeman has slammed greedy forces who use speed cameras to raise cash.
So far, so good. I can’t really argue that this is an exclusive, thanks to young Mr Edwards phoning up “Britain’s leading policeman”.
Met Commissioner Sir John Stevens said in an exclusive interview: “I don’t approve of using speed cameras as money making devices. Their proper use is to lower accident rates.”
He also told the Mirror the public had a right to defend themselves and that he was prepared to quiz Royals and spy chiefs over the death of Princess Diana.
Sir John, 61, spoke out amid national outrage at the soaring number of cameras which land speeding drivers with a £60 fine and penalty points on their licence. He said: “I insist all Met cameras are deployed in places where there is a history of serious accidents.
Let’s ignore the bizarre reference to Princess Di, and look at two other elements from this section: “national outrage”, and Sir John’s insistence on placement in accident spots. Far from there being national outrage about cameras, a ‘poll of polls’ from Transport 2000 found that 74% of the public approved of the use of speed cameras. A Department for Transport poll found that 80% of people living in areas where cameras were being piloted agreed that “cameras are meant to encourage drivers to keep to the speed limit, not to punish them” – hardly a result that suggests national outrage.
Next there’s Sir John’s comment that “I insist all Met cameras are deployed in places where there is a history of serious accidents.” In fact, Safety Camera Partnerships (SCP), the bodies which place and maintain speed cameras, have a legal right to place cameras only in areas where there have been at least four fatalities in a 1.5km stretch, and where 20% of drivers have been exceeding the speed limit. This has been the case since 2002, but – given his other responsibilities – it’s perhaps not a surprise that Sir John doesn’t know the law.
“I’m not after people on a school run exceeding the limit by five miles an hour. I want to target the dangerous motorists and menaces driving unlicenced and uninsured.”
In fact, the Association of Chief Police Officers recommends that drivers are generally only charged when exceeding the speed limit by 10% + 2mph – 35mph in the case of a 30mph limit. So what Sir John says is, in fact, the recommended common practice. However, I’d question whether his example is a good one. People on school runs are most likely to be driving near schools, and often in a hurry – exactly the combination of circumstances that can lead to careless accidents. What’s more, the survivability rate of an accident for a child drops significantly between 30 and 35mph. At 35mph, a driver is twice as likely to kill a pedestrian than at 30mph.
The AA said: “This marks a sensible approach to traffic policing.”
Protesters claim speed cameras unfairly penalise safe drivers and have failed to curb the road death toll.
I’m sure they do, but without any kind of quote, who can tell?
In Hampshire, where motorcycle deaths have almost doubled in a year, six new cameras are netting police an estimated £30,000 a month in fines.
In fact, the police aren’t getting a penny from fines. Fines are split two ways: the costs for administering, placing and maintaining cameras goes to the SCP, with the rest going to the Exchequer. Neither the police nor local authorities get any revenue from speed cameras.
But the devices, which photograph cars from the front, cannot trap motorcycles as bikes do not have a front number plate.
I’m not quite sure of the logic here. According to this, speed cameras aren’t effective because a kind of traffic which they can’t catch aren’t being caught? What?
While drivers complain at too many cameras, a survey showed there were just six on 21 miles of Britain’s most dangerous roads.
Here, we just have a bit of lazy journalism. The survey referred to was by Autocar magazine and the RAC Foundation, but uses data gathered from 1997 to 2001. During this period, the national system of cameras was only in a pilot scheme phase – and most of the roads involved weren’t in the pilot scheme.
There are numerous articles like this, and the worrying thing is the government is doing nothing to counter them. All the information to show these “news” stories are baloney is there – but when will a government minister be brave enough to stand up and tell it how it is?