Traffic cameras… Are they 21st-century lifesavers, playing a crucial role in reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads? Or are they a modern-day milch cow, a highly successful generator of revenue for police and local authorities? It’s the question that motorists have been asking ever since the first Dutch-made Gatso cameras – named after their rally-driving inventor, Maurice Gatsonides – started ‘big-brothering’ errant drivers.
The answer, it seems, depends on whether or not you’ve fallen foul of these high-tech extensions to the long arm (and eyes) of the law. If you have, the overwhelming evidence suggests you firmly believe traffic cameras are tax-raising infringers of personal liberties – specifically the one that allows you to break the law and get away with it.
Driven to destruction
Some drivers become so angry they go to great lengths to defend themselves against speed cameras. None more than British motorist, Shafkat Munir, 26, who had a clean licence until, within a short space of time, he was caught speeding on three occasions. Although that would not normally have meant him losing his licence, he arranged for a false death certificate to be sent to the police in order that they dropped the charges. When his ‘defence’ was shown to be dead in the water he was given a 12-month prison sentence and banned from driving for 18 months.
Other irate drivers have taken out their vengeance against the cameras by setting fire to them, pulling them from their mountings with 4x4s and even blowing them up with explosives. Others, including my wife, have quietly faced the music, paid the price and come away believing traffic cameras are not purely there to collect cash.
Her sin was to be snapped doing 35mph in a 30mph zone by a camera that she has driven past a thousand times without exceeding the limit. After all, like most speed cameras in the UK, it’s painted bright yellow so that you can see it and a warning sign depicting a camera is positioned well before you reach the camera itself. However, distracted by a chatting passenger (mother-in-law!) she had momentarily lost concentration. Police offered her the chance to avoid penalty points on her (clean) licence and a £60 (US$110) fine by attending a day-long speed-awareness course – costing £60 – and run by ex-traffic cops.
It was, she says, the best £60 she’d spent in a long time and she came away with a CD showing the locations of all speed cameras in our area – surely not the gift of an organisation out to raise funds? Rather, it suggests one determined (by the presence of the cameras) to reduce deaths and serious injuries. Mind you, one statistic yet to be published is how many accidents are caused by speeding drivers braking hard when they spot a traffic camera ahead and then accelerating hard when they’ve passed it. Not that these dodging drivers will get away with it much longer. With even newer, even higher-tech linked cameras, drivers’ average speed over a given distance can be calculated and a ticket issued to offenders.
Love them or loathe them, traffic cameras are here to stay. Drivers could do worse than remember: if you don’t like the fine – don’t do the crime!
We still need real evidence that
a) setting speed limits in general lowers accident rates
b) speed limits are generally put up in a way that is sensible
Actually there is major doubt and quite some evidence that the answer to both is not as simple as usually pretended by simple-minded politicians, authority representatives and police officers.
An example that strongly challenges a) above is the fact that, even though unlimited speeds are permitted on many German Autobahns, the accident rate there is below European average
You can see yourself many examples that strongly challenge b). How many major roads do you know with multiple lanes in each direction that pass through open fields or are totally fenced off so that there are no pedestrians, yet have speed limits of 50 or 60km/h?
And why did the Mayor in my home town have a special council meeting a few years back that had only four, totally isolated points on the agenda:
1. establishing two new positions for the enforcement department
2. granting 150 thousand for a new radar trap van
3. an update to the municipal budget of 500 thousand revenue from the new vehicle in second half of the year and
4. creating around eight new 30km zones (illegally including the access roads into these zones) throughout the city
So I do not see that the author really has looked into any "evidence" as he stated. At least not in the way anyone with a anything close to a scientific or at least reputable way of judgment should and would do!
Dr. Uwe Leinberger of T-Systems