Saturday, 27 August 2011

Speed cameras: an accident in themselves?


The Department for Transport (DfT) has published online data for accidents, casualties and speeding at fixed camera sites. Statistics for the 75 local authorities who have so far provided their information shows that speed cameras have done very little, if anything, to improve safety for motorists and other road users.

In fact, the figures suggest the exact opposite. In some cases, speed cameras have not cut accident rates, but increased them. Research we did last year found the rate of decline in road accidents slowed when speed cameras were introduced, and today’s figures build on that. We also saw that when Swindon turned off their cameras, there was no increase in accident rates, debunking the claim that without these cameras, motorists become dangerous behind the wheel.

Many of us may be guilty of ‘panic braking’ when we see a speed camera and slam on the brakes to avoid detection, others may tactically brake because they already know where the cameras are. But even the most consistently speed conscious motorists among us will have seen this behaviour from other drivers. This camera-induced erratic driving doesn’t make for safe roads. As Claire Armstrong, co-founder of Safe Speed notes, “road safety is not measured in miles an hour”. People should be encouraged to drive safely, rather than just slowly. Yet there have been numerous cases of cameras being installed with no real road safety benefit at all. For example, a speed camera was erected on the A329 in Little Milton, Oxfordshire, in 1997 despite no previous collisions or casualties for five years.

This data further supports the suspicion that many of us have held for a long time: that speed cameras are little more than money-making machines, topping up the government’s revenue through speeding fines, rather than genuine safety devices. Motorists are already very heavily over-taxed and they don’t want to see more of their hard-earned cash pay for the maintenance and installation of fixed cameras which penalise them further. If speed cameras are not doing their road safety job effectively, they should be scrapped, something we called for in our manifesto pledge last year.

The DfT should be praised for its transparency in publishing this data but they shouldn’t stop there. All councils should be held to account and publish their data, so we know if our money is being used on ‘safety efficient’ rather than money-spinner cameras. Road Safety Minister Mike Penning sums it up:

“Local residents have a right to expect that when their council spends money on speed cameras, they publish information to show whether those cameras are helping to reduce accidents or not.”

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