The Great Speed Camera Debate: Are They a Help or Hindrance?

Speed cameras are widely regarded by many motorists as an inconvenience and general nuisance whose sole object is to make money. It is hard to imagine, however, that anyone would object to any measure that could successfully reduce motor accidents or fatalities.

The question, therefore, arises as to whether speed cameras are an effective way of ensuring compliance with the speed limits on our roads and of reducing road traffic accident claims. If so, why are there now reductions in public funding for speed cameras and reductions to the Road Safety Grant?

Speed Cameras

There are two main types of speed camera. Fixed speed cameras are located beside a road and take a photo of the offending vehicle, either as it approaches or as it passes the camera. Average speed cameras are placed at intervals and measure speed over a known distance. These cameras are able to use automatic number plate recognition.

One of the main reasons for using speed cameras is to reduce casualties arising out of road traffic accidents, particularly at accident black spots. It is believed that the chances of surviving being hit by a car are 90% at 20 mph, 50% at 30 mph and only 10% at 40 mph.

The Case For

Many studies have shown that speed cameras are a successful way of reducing traffic accidents. The British Medical Journal reported in 2003 and 2005 that they were an effective means of reducing the number of accidents and their severity. A four-year study by the Department of Transport also came to the same conclusion. As recently as 2010, the RAC estimated that scrapping the speed cameras in the UK could lead to an additional 800 serious injuries or fatalities.

The Case Against

There have, however, been reports that speed cameras can have a negative impact on the way we drive. A poll by the UK car insurer, Liverpool Victoria, came to some worrying conclusions. Whilst speed cameras may have an influence on the speed vehicles are driven at, their very existence can be a distraction. Some 81% of those questioned admitted to paying more attention to their speedometer than the road as they approached a speed camera, with some even saying that they braked sharply when they spotted cameras, a potentially dangerous practice.

The first English local authority to turn off their speed cameras, Swindon, reported an early success with their decision. Figures even suggested that there had been a slight reduction in the number of accidents following the switch off. Whether this is a statistical anomaly or whether it will continue in the long term remains to be seen.

In these difficult financial times, it may be that more local authorities choose to save money by turning off their speed cameras. Let’s hope that the UK doesn’t seek to emulate the Vietnamese city of Thanh Hoa, however, in a bid to save money. There have been reports that police there have been catching speeding bikers by using fishing nets wrapped around bricks. Ouch!


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