In Britain over the past 10 years the number of traffic accidents has fallen to a record low, yet the number of prosecutions for speeding has grown sevenfold. Mark Field, who represents the cities of London and Westminster in the UK Parliament for the Conservatives, says it is time to stop using speed cameras primarily as a source of revenue.
In October last year the town of Swindon was the first local authority in the UK to scrap funding for speed cameras. Now several other councils across the country look set to follow its lead.
Responsive local councils across the UK 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 the UK’s system of fixed penalty notices is the effect they have on the totting up disqualification scheme. Once a driver reaches a total of 12 points accumulated over the course of a three-year period he or she will 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 20mph (36km/h) or more. 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 20% 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 (96km/h) at night time on an empty 50mph (80km/h) 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.
See related news story: UK speed camera fines rise sevenfold.
I support speed cameras that issue tickets for over speed drivers and under speed drivers, with messaging that informs
drivers of the importance of maintaining posted speeds.
These posted speeds would have a built-in, agreed upon over/under tollerance.
Would like to hear from DOT's and contractors that have an interest.
Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, is unknowingly portraying the abject lack of knowledge many road safety zealots exhibit because of that well understood phenomena called “group think.”
And having read the article by Steve Stradling that he references, it is clear Stradling is also snowed by the group think of the road safety zealots.
Stradling “quotes” Nilsson in that he states a 1% increase in speed results in a 2% increase in injury crashes, a 3% increase in serious injury crashes and a 4% increase in fatal crashes.
The trouble is there is no substance to Nilsson’s work. It claims that as kinetic energy increases with the square of the vehicle speed therefore injury crashes must increase with the square of the speed; serious injury crashes must increase faster, so lets say the cube of the speed, and fatal crashes must increase faster again, so let’s say the speed raise to the power of four, where in all cases the speed is the travel speed. There is no substance to any of it!
Stadling also says, “Twice as many car drivers who have been flashed for speeding in the past three years have also crashed in that period.” But the more one drives the more one is likely to be flashed and the more likely one is to be involved in a crash! Speed cameras are supposedly placed in high crash risk parts of the road network – by implication those whose travel is past lots of speed cameras are exposed to higher risk of crash along those routes.
Those who drive professionally and travel many times the distance of your average car driver may have speed camera flash rates and crash rates per kilometer of travel much less than the average car driver and yet still have greater rates of being flashed or being in crashes.
Gifford and Stradling are both hopelessly wrong in their assertions because they assert/assume the speed limit is the appropriate speed.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not drivers exceeding the speed limit when appropriate that poses a hazard to the more vulnerable road user groups. It’s those travelling at inappropriate speeds whether that is above or below the speed limit.
And Intelligent Speed Adaption is an absolutely stupid idea that is not worthy of consideration because speed limits are not the appropriate speeds.
The challenge is to get the road safety zealots to abandon their collective group think, and alter the legislation and the enforcement to penalise those travelling at inappropriate speeds for the situation.
There is evidence to show that the accident rate is a U-shaped function when plotted against the mean speed. That is, variations from the mean, both positive and negative causes the accident rate to rise (see: Solomon, D. Crashes on Main Rural Highways Related to Speed, Driver and Vehicle. Bureau of Public Roads, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. (1964).
When compared with the mean speed the increase in accident rate is greater for going slower than it is for going faster.
If speed enforcement were to be implemented just for safety then should not slower drivers would get bigger penalties than faster ones?
I would certainly be interested to read Mr Field’s “evidence” about drivers spending more time looking at their speedometers than at the road.
It is also the case that research by Steve Stradling identifies that speed choice is a significant predictor of crash risk. Those who choose to drive at a higher speed are more likely to have a crash.
The issue here is about the imposition of risk upon others.
Speeding drivers pose a hazard to the more vulnerable road user groups. The challenge is to find an appropriate solution whether that be more roads police, safety cameras, highway engineering or Intelligent Speed Adaptation.