The UK has more speed cameras than any other country I’ve visited. When they were introduced they were targetted at places where speed had been identified as a contributing factor in crashes. That was a long time ago when accident blackspots were investigated in detail and careful, thoughtful action taken. Sadly taking such a considerate approach is time consuming and expensive. These days it seems that the ONLY factor considered for any accident is speed.

The standard result of driving past a speed camera too fast is a fine of £60 and 3 penalty points on your licence. It’s a standard fine that gets applied regardless of your speed (unless totally excessive). Over the last few years the government created “partnerships” between the councils and police authorities meaning that part of the money from fines is kept and reinvested. Hmm, does anyone else see a conflict of interest? Yes, with one deft stroke speed cameras become revenue generators. It didn’t take long for those placing the cameras to realise that fixed cameras don’t maintain their revenue stream for long. Drivers get to know the locations and simply slow down to avoid them. The solution was simple – mobile cameras! These drive around in large well marked vans, which then park in laybys and open their back doors (hiding all the nice bright markings they have) and setup a camera to catch motorists – or should that be generate revenue? Suddenly long term revenue is protected and the lower cost of operaring these cameras makes the profit even greater.

Evidence from the last few years suggests that road deaths are climbing again. This is despite the introduction of more cameras, better technology in the cameras and the removal of restrictions on where they can be placed. During the recent roadworks on the M25 to widen the carriageway ahead of Terminal 5 there used to be a sign advertising how many tickets had been issued by the cameras controlling the 40 mph limit. The number grew very quickly yet there were very, very few accidents in that stretch (though broken down vehicles did cause problems on a regular basis). One of the national papers acrried a prediction that fines issued would top $6 million – not a bad sum of money to add to the local councils budget is it?

The partnerships have tried to be more open in their approach, publishing websites (probably at their residents expense) that aim to inform people. The one for my local area is here. On their web pages they laud the reduction in deaths at their sites, which is in keeping with other research (I can’t find the url to link to at present) that found that if the approaches to the camera sites were included then no reduction was present and in fact there was an increase in non-injury accidents! Funny how introducing a distraction causes mroe accidents isn’t it?

Simple truth – speed is a factor in EVERY accident. Put in simplistic terms, stationary vehicles don’t cause accidents. Experts rate speed as only the 8th to 10th most important factor in crashes. Inattention is the usually the main factor. Therein lies a problem – there are no devices that can measure inattention! Speed of course can be easily measured.

Simplistic approaches to complex problems never work. If everyone drove at the speed limit and there were still crashes what would be next? Lowering the speed limit? With the current approach to policing roads it’d be an odds on favourite. When the speed limits get too low what would be next? The road network is a key part of the transport infrastructure of the UK and slowing it to a standstill will harm UK business greatly.

Enforcement alone is not enough. It needs to play a part, but it needs to be complemented by education and awareness. Poor driving results in accidents. The only way to make the roads safer is to reduce our reliance on automated measures and adopt a wider range of measures. A police car on a road encourages drivers to be more careful and considerate. A speed camera simply gets people to slow down while within it’s sights. Which is more desirable?