posted 7 months ago

Are MPs Right To Call For More Average Speed Safety Cameras?

Committee says safety cameras necessary due to falling police numbers and falling driving offence detection rates.

Safety camera numbers in UK

The Government should “consider” installing more average safety cameras in the UK, the Transport Committee said - but what is the justification and do we need them? Liverpool Victoria, after all, estimated there are already more than 3,500 fixed and mobile cameras in operation. That equates to 1 for every 67 miles of road.

Justification for more average speed safety cameras

The Committee's Road Traffic Law Enforcement report revealed the number of detected motoring offences has more than halved in recent times. In 2004, 4.3 million drivers fell foul whereas in 2013 - the last year for which figures are available – there were 1.6 million.

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The fall coincided with a reduction of traffic police. In 2005, numbers hit 7,104 but in 2014 there were 4,356. This was a reduction from 5% to 3.4% of all active officers, the Committee said.

Read our guide to understanding Average Speed Cameras here

The report added: “If enforcement is going to be effective as the number of dedicated road policing officers continues to fall, the use of technology is essential.” It fills a gap, in other words. The Committee explained why it favours the use of cameras. It said: 

  • speed cameras are an “important and effective part of the technology toolkit”;
  • average cameras contribute to “overall speed limit compliance”;
  • average cameras “reduce the impression that motorists are unfairly caught out”.

Why camera enforcement is necessary

The Committee pointed to statistics to further justify its position. It claimed: “The vast majority of Fixed Penalty Notices issued for exceeding the speed limit are camera detected”. In England and Wales in 2014 the figure was 90%, for example. That equated to 668,081 of the 743,054 Penalty Notices issued that year.

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Effectiveness of average speed safety cameras

The Committee suggested that average cameras have a proven record. 

On the A9 in Scotland, safety and traffic benefits have been substantial, a Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety representative told the Committee. However, he agreed the system has not been in position long enough to be certain.

The Intelligent Transport Systems Association told the Committee it has a positive view of average cameras too. It said the number of people killed or seriously injured in such areas has fallen, on average, by about 70%. It concludes, however, that there is very little independent corroboration.

Nottinghamshire County Council provided further evidence. In 2012, it fitted average cameras on the A614 and lowered the speed limit.

Sonya Hurt, Casualty Reduction Manager, said: “Our average speed installations are proving year-on-year to be a known and effective method of reducing casualties around the county. Where these cameras have been used elsewhere in Nottinghamshire, there has been an 80% reduction in the number of people killed/seriously injured”.

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How average speed safety cameras work

An average safety camera system includes a series of cameras; typically mounted over a few miles. The first notes the moment vehicles enter the enforcement zone and the last the time they leave.

If vehicles cover the route faster than (say) 6 minutes, their average speed was beyond the legal limit. Perpetrators are then traced via registration plates and penalised. A Fixed Penalty Notice typically includes a £100 fine and 3 licence penalty points.

The strength of average cameras is that motorists have to stay, on average, within the limit for an extended period. That is a contrast to traditional cameras that only monitor a few metres of road. The Committee said this prevents drivers: “Evading detection by altering the speed for a brief period where a camera is active”.

Average speed safety cameras not always successful

But perhaps average cameras are not as effective at slowing traffic as some people hope, at least in certain cases. Consider the A338 in Dorset that has a temporary limit of 40mph due to roadworks. In February 2016 alone, 952 motorists were caught exceeding the limit.

Councillor Peter Finney, Cabinet Member for Environment, told the local newspaper: "I think it's unfortunate that drivers are not obeying the speed limit.” Furthermore, Dorset Highways had to emphasis via a blog: "We know that the A338 feels like the longest road ever when driven at 40mph, but it’s there for safety reasons”.

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Furthermore, the Alliance of British Drivers told the Transport Committee: “Widespread use of enforcement technology has led to large numbers of prosecutions of essentially safe drivers”. 

It said that the increasing use of such technology in the absence of officers on the beat had ensured that speeding offences receive “greater importance than they deserve” as they are easily measured. 

RAC perspective

RAC Public Affairs Manager, Nick Lyes, concluded: “According to the 2015 RAC Report on Motoring, 7 in 10 motorists say they regularly or occasionally break the 70mph speed limit, so clearly there is an issue of compliance here”.

The benefit in using average speed cameras is that they have the advantage of measuring speed over distance, which is in marked contrast with fixed cameras which are often criticised for encouraging sharp braking and acceleration by drivers as they react”. More average speed cameras

Summary perspective

Installing cameras in every street would have no impact on drivers that strictly follow the law, because they never speed. It would also have little impact on constant offenders, because they have no interest in public safety. But they might remind motorists that occasionally/accidentally break the limit to check the speedometer. 

That small difference could make a big difference. After all, Department for Transport research emphasised how speed increases the risk of personal injury, particularly beyond 30mph. It explained: The risk of fatal injury for pedestrians is increased between “3.5 and 5.5 times” as speed increases from 30mph to 40mph.

On this basis, further use of average cameras where (say) there are vulnerable road workers could be beneficial. But to be accepted by the public there has to be a clear, safety only, benefit to minimise the perception that their primary purpose is to raise money. 

Guaranteeing any income is used for road repairs might be a start.