Speed Cameras – A Blessing Or A Curse?

Since the advent of speed cameras, much debate has taken place over their use on Britain’s roads. Some people would appear to suggest they have been placed to catch motorists out and penalise them for being slightly over the speed limit, often citing cameras to be discretely hidden. indeed many drivers seem to resent their presence, feeling they are just used to  raise revenue – see here  This view though,  seems at odds with the Governments current policy of making cameras and their locations more open and obvious – they want cameras to be openly visible from at least 60 meters, painted yellow, and have advance warning signs of their presence from 1 kilometre. Probably, this is why we now have information on speed camera locations through Strathclyde’s “Camera Partnership”  http://www.strathclydecameras.com/ where camera locations are openly disclosed.

Opinion seems divided on  the effectiveness of speed cameras as a road safety device . In a R.O.S.P.A. article from December 2011, it would seem that evidence suggests speed cameras reduce accidents. It states that an ” independent review of 4,000 safety cameras over a four year period showed conclusively that cameras significantly reduce speeding and collisions, and cut deaths and serious injuries at camera sites.” Other contrasting views can be found in the Daily Telegraph of June 14th 2012: 
Robert Gifford, Executive Director of Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety

“Speed is a contributory factor in about 30% of road crashes. A driver’s choice of speed can affect the margins of error that are left when he or someone else makes a mistake. Excess speed – breaking the posted speed limit – can play a significant part in those crashes.
In fact, police estimates suggest that around 14% of fatal crashes involve excess speed – around 200 road deaths in the 2010 casualty figures.”Different types of speed camera can have different benefits. The fixed camera is a visual roadside reminder that, at some point, someone has made a fatal mistake. DfT advice, after all, makes clear that they should only be placed where there has been a history of fatal or serious crashes, where non-compliance with the speed limit is an identified problem and where no other engineering solution is possible. Time over distance cameras are effective in different circumstances: where roadside workers are at risk on motorways and where there is a need to control speed on long stretches of urban road. Managing speed means that we reduce the risk to those these able to look after themselves: children, cyclists and older pedestrians. Cameras are part but not all of that management process.”

Against this arguement   Armstrong, of pressure group  “Safe Speed,” who in the same article says: “Road safety is based on driver ability. Our best road safety asset is the driver.
The central problem with speed cameras is that they affect driver’s management of risk. Speed cameras have changed the things we pay attention to and the things we regard as important. The basis for the setting of speed limits has changed, so that the limits are no longer an indication of the predictability of hazard density. Wrongly set limits encourage drivers to use the speed limits as their safety limits.
Speed cameras routinely cause panic braking. Sound engineering solutions have often been displaced with speed cameras, so the original problems remain. The respect and trust that the public once had in the police and the justice system is seriously damaged.
Those that have paperless trails avoid identification, fines and prosecution. Many admit guilt when they believe they were driving safely. Speed cameras never apply any discretion.This technical infringement is disproportionately applied, ignoring driver behaviour. Remove all speed cameras and reintroduce good police patrols. Speed cameras have been deliberately placed after accidents rates have spiked, and the expected casualty reduction is then wrongly attributed to speed cameras. This is effect commonly known as “regression to the mean” as accidents occur by random chance and so the subsequent reduction would have occurred anyway with no speed cameras present. Road safety is not measured in miles per hour.”
Recently, Government policy has ceased the central funding of speed cameras and placed the responsibility for cameras on local councils. There now seems to be a general decommissioning of many u.k. speed cameras.    It would appear though that the impact of this has had varied results throughout the country – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10762590     and the difference is clear – casualty rates in Swindon remained the same after removal of cameras, while in Thames Valley region there was a38% drop in vehicle collisions since their deployment of speed cameras – hence their concern decommissioning will have a negative impact.

In my personal opinion, if speed cameras save even one life, then they are a valuable road safety resource. No doubt other methods of traffic management – such as road engineering –  could be applied. I can see how sudden braking from some road users as they approach a speed camera can be in itself hazardous, but then if a safe following distance is applied the hazard of sudden braking is negated. Problems only occur when drivers fail to follow rules and guidelines. The argument that drivers are being penalised to raise revenue is one I find difficulty with – speeding is an offence. Why should i have a problem with speed cameras if i am not speeding? Herein may lie the solution. If funding could be found for training to help and affect a change in driver attitude, then perhaps the whole consciousness of the driving community could be changed for the better.
According to dft statistics, the average car journey was 7.6 miles in 2010. If a motorist therefore, does 40mph for 7.6 miles – lets imagine the unlikely scenario that the journey is on a long straight road, uninterrupted by junctions and traffic lights – it takes 11.4 minutes for their journey. If they travel the same distance at 30mph, their journey takes 15.2mins. therefore,they stand to save precisely 3.8mins.  Add now to this delays at traffic lights for both drivers, and the difference in journey times would almost certainly be less.
Most of us will have heard the road safety advert with the child’s voice saying  “Hit me at 40mph and there is an 80% chance I’ll die … Hit me at 30mph and there is an 80% chance I’ll live.”  All this risk just to save 3.8mins off a journey.
There is a very well known saying that “speed kills,” however, i would be very interested to know the fatality statistics derived from driver attitude. Somehow, I expect they would be very high indeed.