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.