following article was published in June 2003 (latest articles are at the bottom
of this page).
Cutting Excessive Speed and
Warning of Road Hazards
emphasis has recently been placed on reducing vehicle speeds on British roads.
So for example, over 3 million speeding tickets are likely to be issued this
year, and speed humps have been sprouting everywhere. And yet these expensive
programmes have had negligible effect on road accident statistics. All that has
happened is that an army of people (police, court staff, and the manufacturers
and installers of speed cameras and road humps) have been deployed to achieve
At present we have a regime where minor infringements of speed limits result in
severe punishment, as if we were all naughty children who needed severe
disciplining. In the case of speed humps, we are actually chastised with
corporal punishment, when it has long been abandoned in our courts and schools.
However, it is still recognised that reducing vehicle speeds at known danger
spots would clearly be advantageous. How
to achieve changes in driver habits, or warn drivers of temporary oversights, at
an economical cost and without unnecessarily criminalising large swathes of the
population is the issue. Perhaps education is a better approach?
Well recently the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) have reported on the use
of electronic warning signs. These can warn drivers of excessive speed, or
alternatively be used to indicate that dangerous bends or junctions are coming
up. You may have seen some already in Bromley or other London boroughs and more extensive use is
anticipated. Examples are shown below.
The picture above shows a sign that lights up to display a vehicles speed when
it is above a certain level (yes the van was actually doing 38 mph on Leesons
Hill, Orpington before braking).
Now the really interesting thing about this report is that it conclusively shows
that these devices are not just effective at slowing down drivers, but that they
are also much better than speed cameras at reducing accidents. At the sites
studied, where these devices have been installed over a number of years, average
speeds were reduced by 4 mph, and by 7 mph for junction and bend warnings.
Accidents were reduced by one third!
Another major advantage was that the effects did not seem to wear off over time,
and the initial installation cost and running costs are a fraction of those for
speed cameras. These devices can also be used as a good alternative to speed
humps on minor roads.
(Editors Comments: Clearly a major improvement over the use of speed cameras and
road humps with much greater acceptability to the general public. Bromley
council staff are to be congratulated on pioneering these devices in the London area.)
Cameras (published July 2008)
All safety camera partnerships have
recently published their financial figures for the 2006/7 financial year. Here
are some figures from the London results. The London Safety Camera
Partnership issued 359,798 NIPs (Notices of Intended Prosecution to discover the
drivers), which was up 11% on the prior year. But only 159,626 resulted in the
issue of a Fixed Penalty Notice and those actually fell from the prior year by
7%. So the success in tracing offenders was definitely worse.
Even more disappointing (if you consider
these are truly criminal events) was the fact that only 126,128 were paid. This
did result in income of £7.5 million from fines, but costs totalled £8.8 million
and thus they had a deficit of £1.3 million.
(Editor’s Comments: Clearly the non law abiding fraternity have learned that
there are several easy ways to avoid paying a fine – just blame a visitor from
overseas as the driver who has now gone back to Timbuktu. Only the normal law
abiding motorist who has accidentally collected a ticket bothers to pay it. What
a silly way to run any system and yet another reason why speed cameras should be
Opposition to speed cameras has been so strong that there are numerous cases of
cameras being destroyed. The web site at
www.speedcam.co.uk/index2.htm contains a very large collection of such
photographs and is well worth visiting to see the impact of this underground
movement. They seem particularly active on the A2
and A20 in south east London where cameras get repeatedly destroyed. The
authorities seem to have given up putting them back in some cases.
It is interesting to look at the accounts
for the London Safety Camera Partnership where apart from £5.1 million on staff
costs the next largest item was “equipment maintenance” which is presumably
where the costs of repairing and replacing damaged cameras is located.
(Editor’s Comments: My only comment is that when people object strongly enough
to laws that they feel result in unreasonable persecution, but politicians do
not listen, some people will take the matter into their own hands).
Do Work (article published December 2008)
Speed Indicator Devices (SIDs) actually do work to slow drivers according to a
recent study at 11 sites around south-east London by TRL.
On average they slowed by 1.4 mph and accidents could be reduced by as much as 5
per cent according to the report. The London Borough of Bromley has 75 of these
electronically activated signs which warn drivers of hazards or display vehicle
speeds. They are much cheaper than speed cameras.
Cameras (published December 2009)
cameras of the digital type (Monitron) have been popping up all over London in
the last two years. They are easy to miss as they are placed at the top of a
tall pole and must have caught many people unawares, rather than their visible
presence deterring speeders.
Speed cameras in London are operated by The London Safety Camera Partnership (LSCP)
which is dominated by the bureaucrats of TfL, has no constitution and holds
meetings in secret. They claim to be a road safety initiative designed to reduce
speeding and the number of vehicles running red lights in the capital, but they
don’t produce any evidence as to how effective they are.
The LSCP is a curious entity. It has no written constitution. Why not? It is
possible that the LSCP is now in financial crisis and there is certainly a
question mark over its future. Does it really serve any useful purpose?
There are now 38 SCPs, covering most police force areas. Until April 2007, local
SCPs received a proportion of the income from fines generated by
traffic-enforcement cameras, but the well-founded suspicion that the cameras
were being used primarily for revenue-raising purposes led the government to
abandon this method of funding. Nowadays all local authorities with a
responsibility for road safety receive an annual road safety grant not related
to the number of penalty notices issued.
The enforcement of traffic laws is primarily the responsibility of the police.
So why the need for a "partnership"? Ostensibly the creation of SCPs (a decade
ago) was seen as the rectification of a democratic deficit. But one of the
“partners” is usually the local magistrates court which rather undermines the
requirement for the judiciary to be independent of law enforcement. Traffic
enforcement cameras are not popular with motorists, the vast majority of whom
see themselves as, and are in fact, law-abiding citizens.
The root cause of motorists' dislike of speed cameras is that they resent the
interference with their judgment that the cameras impose. And they suspect that
the primary purpose of the camera is to raise
revenue. The creation of the SCPs was seen at the time as a way of deflecting
criticism of this type by formalising links between the police and local
authorities in respect of the location and operation of safety cameras. The
history of the London partnership suggests that this has not been a success.
The LSCP is a secretive body. Take a look at its minutes (available at its
website). Many of the most important items are deleted, hidden from public view
- for example financial performance monitoring (September 2007), poor quality of
camera data (November 2007) and strategic planning (March 2008). LSCP meetings
are not open to the public - though no official seems to be able to quote any
legislative or regulatory backing for this ban, which is not surprising since
the LSCP has never had a constitution. During 2008 there was a concerted effort
by local councillors in London to obtain representation on the LSCP, but this
was comprehensively thwarted. One elected councillor attends LSCP meetings but
has had to sign the Official Secrets Act as a condition of attendance.
In practice, the work of the LSCP is dominated not by the police but by
unelected officials from Transport for London. These bureaucrats are no doubt
passionate about their work but they (inevitably) bring prejudices to it -
mainly a conviction that motorists are predisposed to break the law and are the
sole authors of their own misfortunes.
But are they? To talk to TfL you would think that traffic-enforcement cameras
are infallible, and that their technology is perfect. Well, they're not and it
isn't. No technology is perfect. There are a number of well-publicised instances
of cameras giving false readings. What would you do if you received a Notice of
Intended Prosecution alleging that you had been snapped by a camera driving over
the legal speed limit? The first thing you should do is to demand sight of the
relevant calibration certificate.
To their credit, a number of SCPs actually post these on their websites. But not
the LSCP. Privately TfL admits that traffic-enforcement cameras can malfunction,
but it is adamant that it is not going to advertise the fact, and points instead
to the new generation of average-speed cameras whose readings they insist are
irrefutable. Well, they aren't. For instance, a minute misalignment of the
gantry on which banks of average-speed cameras are mounted can result in the
transmission of compromised data.
The LSCP is presently in a state of financial crisis. TfL has had to cut its
annual budget from £5.8m to £3m for 2009-10. So there will have to be a much
more focused prioritisation in its work. Earlier this year Swindon became the
first English local authority to scrap all its fixed speed cameras – it will
divert the money saved thereby to road safety awareness schemes and
friendly, vehicle-activated signs, while Wiltshire police will continue to
operate mobile units. Is it too much to expect TfL to do the sensible thing and
Postscript: over 300,000 NIPS were issued in London in 2008/2009 but this may
fall to around 80,000 notices as TfL have cut funding by about £2.8 million and
45 staff have been removed. Presumably it will be pure luck whether you get a
ticket or not as the number of cameras shows no sign of being reduced.
Display Devices v. Cameras (published October 2010)
There has been a vigorous exchange of letters on the
merits of speed cameras, and the alternative of using speed display devices (as
pictured above in Bromley) in the pages of Private Eye. Your Editor joined in
the debate to point out that speed display devices were much more cost effective
in terms of accidents or injuries prevented. The following is a brief summary of
the information present on the Safespeed web site (see
www.safespeed.org.uk/vas.html which was produced by Idris Francis and
others), based on the original TRL report on the subject and scientific analysis
of the relative costs and benefits:
1. The original TRL548 report said that speed display
devices reduced accidents by one-third in their study and that they were very
effective at reducing speeds. Indeed they are more effective than speed cameras
are at reducing accidents and casualties.
2. Speed display devices initially cost about £5,000 (or
less) with very low maintenance costs, whereas speed cameras cost about £50,000
per year to operate.
3. The relative cost-effectiveness of display devices
versus cameras is therefore about 50 to one. This is an enormous difference and
yet even after this figure was well known, speed cameras were still being
advocated by central Government and politicians.
The key point is that for the same amount of money (and
budgets are always limited), you can save many more lives and injuries by
spending the limited resources that are available on speed display devices and
not cameras. In addition you avoid the criminalisation of large swathes of the
population (over 200,000 people banned from driving now annually due to getting
too many points on their licence, thus threatening their livelihoods). In
addition, thousands of people are involved in the totally unproductive activity
of issuing speeding tickets, and collecting the fines, including of course the
police and courts staff who would be better occupied on real crime.
Average Speed Cameras Work (published November 2010)
looking at the impact of average speed cameras, it can be difficult to determine
their impact on road accidents because the speed limit is often changed at the
same time as they are introduced, or other road safety measures are undertaken.
So it’s difficult to separate out the impact of the different changes. However,
Transport for London (TfL) recently produced some data for Upper Thames St (the
stretch between Tower Bridge and Southwark Bridge). This was the result of FOI
requests for information on average speed cameras. This was a road that was
originally a 30-mph limit and was reduced to 20-mph with average speed cameras
while construction work took place in 2004. After 3 years, when the work was
completed, the 30 mph speed limit was restored but the average speed cameras
retained. So since 2007, we have the same 30 mph speed limit, no significant
changes to the road itself, but average speed cameras present. The impact on
accident figures was as follows (36month periods)
In other words, basically no change (ignoring the likely
statistically random extra serious accident with the average speed cameras in
place). There were slightly fewer accidents during the period that 20mph was in
force, although the narrowing of the road, limitations on pedestrian movements
and road work disruptions might have had a major impact on the accident figures.
RAC Foundation Report on Speed Cameras (published
In November 2010 the RAC Foundation published
a report on "The Effectiveness of Speed Cameras", authored by Professor Richard
Allsop. In the view of the ABD, the analysis contained therein was defective,
and a rebuttal was published therefore in this document:
Review of the
Effectiveness of Speed Cameras (click on to read). It also covers some of
the contrary evidence and argues that expenditure on speed cameras actually
costs lives rather than saves them because the money expended could be better
spent on alternatives.
Thames Valley Speed Cameras (published
This article was published on one of the few
independent analyses of the effectiveness of speed cameras. It shows they have
negligible impact on injury accidents:
Thames Valley Speed Cameras
. Postscript: Mr Finney's full evidence is now present on his own web site here:
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