Recent data released by the Government has shown that many of the speed cameras dotted around our fair country are simply being used to generate cash and don’t reduce accidents, or save lives. Shocking stuff, but in all honesty, does that surprise anyone?
At this point, I must make the point that as a company we are 100% committed to road safety and believe that absolutely anything that can improve it is worthwhile and should be explored. However, most of the focus seems to be on speed cameras and they remain a controversial subject with differing opinions at to their effectiveness abounding. The last thing we want to hear however is that some are in place simply as ‘Cash Cows’.
The “for cameras” camp says that speed is a contributory factor in around 30% of crashes (and I suppose logically, that’s got to be true, as if we all stood still, we would never hit anything). They say that a drivers speed can affect the margins of error that are left when someone makes a mistake (and again, I guess that has to be true, as you’ve got less time to react at say 50mph than you have at 30mph). They say breaking the posted speed limit can play a significant part in those crashes (yet again this may be true, but even the pro-camera lobby only say “can” not definitely does).
Police estimates are that around 14% of fatal crashes involve excess speed and accounts for around 200 deaths each year (can’t dispute these figures, but it does also means that 86% of fatal crashes do not involve excess speed, but people driving legally and within the prescribed limit for the road they are using), so clearly cameras are going to do nothing to reduce the other 86% of deaths that occur.
The DfT advice is that speed cameras should only be placed where there has been a history of fatal or serious crashes and there is a general non-compliance with the speed limit and of course, there is no other engineering solution that can slow drivers down.
The desired effect is that a fixed speed camera should be a constant reminder to every driver that passes it that at some point, someone has made a fatal mistake at that location, and were that the case, indeed, it’s a stark warning to us all, however cameras fail in that objective as so many are at locations where there hasn’t been a history of fatalities and most of us know of cameras just like that, which dilutes the message and because of that, the speed camera has become the enemy, rather than friend that’s on your side and trying to tip you off that the part of road you are using is particularly dangerous.
There is really no logic to location of speed cameras, despite what the Dft guidelines say and to highlight that, and perhaps make an example of how easy it is to advocate that speed cameras are of crucial importance and save lives, lets look at one 8 mile stretch of road in our area that has witnessed a huge number of fatalities and serious accidents.
The road is single lane road handling over 20,000 vehicle movements each day. A report prepared for the Government concluded that in a defined period, there were 87 accidents on that road, compared to an average of 30 on an old fashioned A-class road and just 22 on a modern A-class road in the same period. The report said that the likelihood of fatality or serious injury following an accident on this road is 30% higher than on a modern single lane road.
Do you want to hazard a guess as to whether it has speed cameras or not? Well the answer is no. This road has witnessed way above average rates of fatalities and serious accidents for decades, yet despite being aware of that and with this road being such an obvious case, clearly there must be a belief that speed cameras “will not work” on that stretch of road. What other conclusion can you possibly arrive at? There must be many roads like our example, where you live
Fact is that it’s the driver and their ability and increasingly, their attitude towards speed enforcement that needs the attention. The way each of us manages the risks as we drive will be different, however speed cameras have changed the way we pay attention to things and whilst a camera says “slow down here”, their very absence elsewhere almost says ok guys its safe now, put your foot down!
The way we also set speed limits has changed and in lots of cases they have absolutely no relation to the risk or hazards on a particular stretch of road and drivers know that and many fail to respect the limit in force because they don’t see the reason for it.
Clearly, speed cameras are an invaluable tool in slowing drivers down where workers are on the road carrying out repairs and the like and for that purpose; average speed cameras that measure your speed over a longer distance are perfect. However, travelling on a motorway at around 2.30am the other morning, in an area of road works, the cameras were “apparently” working, but there was not a soul in site over a 4 mile stretch of road, just a few cones and whilst I stuck to what the limit said, the majority of vehicles simply passed me at a much greater speed, as if there was no restriction. Whilst these drivers may get an unpleasant letter in the post, it’s clear that because there was no one working, the reason for the cameras being active was negated and drivers simply failed to respect the limits in place.
So where are we as a country with this? It’s clear that speed cameras are being used in place of engineering alternatives that can reduce traffic speed. Speed cameras are often in locations where they perhaps ought not to be, whilst they are not in locations where they should be. Letting temporary limits remain in force, even when a hazard isn’t present, devalues the impact and importance of what they are there for and creates disrespect towards them (and the people who make the decisions). Many speed limits are set for the wrong reasons and drivers fail to see the justification for a low limit when it’s clearly not needed.
Speed cameras never take into consideration the time of day, level of traffic flow or even weather conditions, so don’t apply discretion as to what you were doing was dangerous or not and we all know from roads we travel on that on a sunny day with little traffic flow, the 50mph limit we are driving through is probably to low, whilst that same 50mph limit would apply in rush hour during a snow blizzard and you would be equally legal, but wholly dangerous.
Unfortunately, as for most of us, the only time we ever fall foul of the law is on the road, perhaps speeding, or simply just being stopped as part of a Police campaign, and there are those who claim this is severely damaging the relationship between the public and the Police and whilst none of us should speed, its wrong, there is a kind of feeling sometimes that the Police are out to get you, even though its not the case, as they are just doing the job they are paid for. It does seem however that occasionally the positioning and use of handheld speed guns is done in a way that it’s very difficult to spot and so gives the impression that the Police are more interested in catching the speeding driver than actually acting as a deterrent to slow them down.
So in conclusion, the two groups who are opposed over the speed camera debate both make valid points, but its clear; with 86% of fatal accidents not being speed related that cameras would have had no impact on reducing that number. Like it or not, we do need speed cameras, they are fantastic at what they do when they are located correctly, but somebody needs to go back to the drawing board, look at where they are located and remove the inappropriately located ones (and the cash cows) then look at where we really need them and install more if needed.
This however does not cover the 86% of non-speed related fatalities and sorting that is a much bigger job as its about drivers attitude and the attention they pay when driving, so I guess it goes back to the old saying that “the most dangerous thing on a car is the nut behind the wheel” and at present, there simply does not seem to be a spanner the right size to sort the nut out! However, if motorists, bikers, cyclists and pedestrians all take just that little bit of extra care and if parents educate their children from the youngest of ages about how to stay safe when using the roads, and if schools spent more time as children got older, training them on how to use the roads, we might just see a new sense of responsibility.
OK, wild idea, but what would be wrong with children even being taught to drive at school? We claim to value education and whilst a young person might get asked the square root of something once in a while, they are going to need to get themselves about, all the time and every day and surely, as a life talent, being able to use the highways a pretty valuable thing? After all, not knowing the square root of something isn’t going to cost you your life, whilst not being “road wise” possibly might!