Speed Cameras: A Muddled Debate

The press this weekend has been full of coverage of news that the government intends to slash spending on speed cameras.  This has predictably spawned gigabytes of commentary in the forums and the blogosphere – take a look at this post and follow-up comments at Iain Dale to get a feel for the way any ‘debate’ on the topic typically goes.

It strikes me that in these arguments two fundamentally different questions always get muddled up leaving folk debating at slightly cross-purposes.  The different questions are:

  • In striking the balance between safety and the freedom for drivers to exercise judgement are current speed limits appropriate – or too arbitrary?
  • Are speed cameras then the best way of enforcing whatever the proper limits should be?

My opinion of the first one is that the blanket assumption that 30 is OK on residential roads is misguided. I personally support the increase in 20mph zones in residential areas that we’ve seen in the last few years and would be happy to see even more.  Where I live there are many narrow residential streets where people double-park leaving only enough room for one car to drive down the middle and little chance to see a child stepping out to cross – yet people bomb down, quite legally – though to my mind criminally negligently – at 30.  The exact opposite applies on motorways where 70 does seem an over-cautious limit (except in those areas where congestion is prevalent). The 70 limit was decided to be a safe speed over 60 years ago.  With the increase in breaking technology and car safety equipment over those decades there is a compelling case that the motorway speed limit could be raised.   There is also a good case for many city arterial roads and dual carriageways to have their limits raised above the current 30 or 40.  Common sense could be applied.  I sense that most people raging against speed cameras are really raging against the level at which speed limits have been set.

As to whether speed cameras are then a good way of enforcing sensible speed limits my answer would be that if deployed properly yes they are.  Strategically placed they can and do save lives.  However, when “over-deployed” or put in places where there is no obvious safety issue they actually detract from getting people to think about their speed intelligently and adjusting their driving accordingly.

As someone whose life has been blighted twice by the crushing, overwhelming loss of an immediate family member in a motor accident I need no lectures on road safety – I am always guarded against those who bleat about speeding tickets.  However, I do think there is a strong case for putting more thought into getting the right speed limit for the right road,  something to my mind the authorities have failed to do – presumably to ‘keep things simple’.  Get this right and I suspect speed cameras would have far more support.

One other quick point, there is a curious anomaly in this whole story – the popular wisdom is that speed cameras are “cash cows” yet the premise of the announcement suggests cameras need ‘funding’.  If that is true they must not be self-sufficient, never mind profit generators. I’m trying to get my head around that. Something doesn’t stack up.



Filed under UK Politics

7 responses to “Speed Cameras: A Muddled Debate

  1. Jeremy Clarksons Anger

    Cracking parody of this story is up here: http://tinyurl.com/2vlscqq

  2. P.A.B.S

    Interesting. I like the idea of more variable speed limits but can’t see them going for it – too confusing for most probably. Know what you mean about people racing at 30 in residential areas. It is madness round us.

  3. Praguetory

    I agree that there’s a lot of poorly thought through knee jerks on both sides of the debate. I am sure your personal loss has focused your mind.

    Where there is clear visibility I don’t really see the case for reducing below 30 – let’s be honest the bombing around you describe on residential streets isn’t people going at 30 – it’s closer to 60 and just having a lower limit that is widely ignored (and actually pretty technically difficult to keep to) won’t impact on those people and will frustrate decent drivers. I would like to see more policing of bad driving (whether that be tailgating/undertaking/forcing others to break by turning out early) but you don’t need cameras for that.

    Like you I am in favour of increasing motorway limits to say 80 but introducing speed limiters so that crazy speeds are simply unachievable – what do you think of that?

    • “where there is clear visibility” – that’s the point… on most of the residential streets I am talking about (think Franklin Road or Mary Vale Road in Bournville) even though they are wide, very few housses have drives so people park on both sides of the street – goons drive a bit quicker to ‘beat’ other cars so they have to give way when there is only room for one car to pass. And 30 really is too fast – you couldn’t possibly see or adjust for a toddler stepping out between to closely parked cars – particularly if your concentrating on getting a little further forward so the bloke coming the other way is forced to give way. At 20 mile per hour the toddler is likely to survive, at 30 s/he is likely to die. In heavily residential roads the pedestrian really should be king and the driver really should be driving round in fear of hitting them….

      Totally different story on, say, the Pershore road where you have a dual carridge-way, wide streets and no parking at all on the sides…. could reasonably be upped to 50 if more pelican crossings were put in.

  4. Praguetory

    One other thing. I like the idea of increasing penalties the more times you are caught. £30 fine, £60 fine, £120 fine etc etc so that you get to the point where people are very likely to change behaviour.

    PS – I haven’t had a speeding ticket in over a decade.

  5. All great points.

    I used to work for the police in the safety camera partnership, a temping job a few years ago. You realise what type of driver calls after only a few moments of speaking…

    “Hi, one of your f***ing cameras flashed me the other day and now I’ve got a f***ing fine.”
    Aged 35-50
    Driving a BMW X5.

    Do I have any sympathy with him? Of course not, he was doing 45 in a 30 and demonstrates absolutely no regret. He needs his license removed to learn.

    Then we used to get the obsessive older people that would send in tens of photographs proving that by driving at 40 in a specific 30 zone posed no additional threat to the public.

    The women that said they only creept over the traffic light line and given a £60 fine + 3pts. Sorry love but the recorded speed across the line was actually 34.

    The list goes on, seldom did I find anyone I genuinely sympathised with.

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