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Cutting Excessive Speed
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The following article was published in June 2003 (latest articles are at the bottom of this page).

Cutting Excessive Speed and Warning of Road Hazards

Much 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 very little.

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.)

____________________________

Speed 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 outlawed).  

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).

_______________________________

SIDs 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. 

___________________________________

Speed Cameras (published December 2009)

Speed 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 follow suit? 

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.

Speed 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.

Do Average Speed Cameras Work (published November 2010)

When 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) 

Period

Fatal

Serious

Slight

2001-2004

0

2

14

2007-2010

0

3

13

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 January 2011)

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 February 2012)

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: www.speedcamerareport.co.uk

 

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