Why we must keep speed cameras

Speed cameraThe Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has helped to reignite the public debate about the future of speed cameras. Kevin Clinton, the Society’s head of road safety, discusses

To kick-start an informed discussion through the national media, nine influential groups put their names to a communiqué that unequivocally recognised speed cameras as an effective part of a much broader programme to save lives and reduce injuries on UK roads. The story was picked up widely at the end of August, appearing in the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express and on the BBC News website, among others. A slew of influential regional newspapers also ran the story, including the Oxford Mail, the Manchester Evening News and the Birmingham Mail.

Oxford switch-off
Media attention was also given to reports that in Oxfordshire, where the county council had stopped funding cameras completely in July, the local road safety partnership said it would consider keeping certain cameras if villagers were ready to foot the bill for operational costs. The village of Nuneham Courtenay, for example, had voiced an interest in doing so until it realised that it would cost the parish council £5,000 a year.

A week after the cameras were switched off in Oxfordshire, the Thames Valley Road Safety Partnership, which previously oversaw the operation of speed cameras in the county, performed an outside broadcast for Radio 4. They examined the offence rates at two fixed camera sites that had been decommissioned on 1 August. The results showed an increase in offence rate of 18 per cent at the first site and 88 per cent at the second.

The One Show then asked the Partnership to visit some sites one month after switch-off to see whether the trend had changed or continued. Checks from those visits resulted in a report, ‘The Speed Camera Switch-Off: One Month On’, which found that by 23 August, the increase in offence rates was 2.6x (3x compared to 2009 averages). Nine days later, offence rates had increased to 3.2x (3.9x compared to 2009).

The results, although only at a limited number of locations for a short period of time, indicate that motorists do alter their speed choices when they know a fixed speed camera is not loaded. Even the most conservative analysis shows a 2.9 to 4 times increase in offending at sites only one month after the switch-off. If seasonal variations and more recent offence rates are used then the increases are significantly higher.

The report’s authors said that local authorities around the country should bear these results in mind if they are considering adopting a similar approach to Oxfordshire, as the deterrent effect of the camera housing alone is diminished by public announcements regarding their operational capacity.

It will be several months before casualty data can tell the partnership if there’s a correlation between the increase in offence rates and an increase in recorded injury collisions. With many local authorities still discussing the impact of at least 27 per cent cuts to their road safety budgets, RoSPA feared that decisions could be taken hastily which may prove irreversible.

Though the government has insisted that road safety should remain a priority for councils, it has also admitted that it is no longer willing to fund the installation of new cameras and that the fate of existing ones should be decided by local authorities alone. Before those decisions are taken, the communiqué’s co-signatories wanted to raise public awareness, demonstrate unity and feed the wider debate with facts.

Call on ministers
Shortly after the communiqué was issued, the AA called on ministers to rethink their opposition to speed cameras, and argued that the views of motorists were not being accurately reflected. It said that a recent survey revealed that 70 per cent of its members accepted the use of cameras. In addition, the AA reiterated its concerns in a letter to transport secretary Philip Hammond.

RoSPA has also issued an evidence-based document entitled: ‘Ten Reasons to Maintain Speed Camera Enforcement’. Available on the charity’s website, it takes as its starting point the fact that drivers and riders who exceed speed limits cause more crashes, and kill and injure more people, than drivers who do not exceed speed limits. In 2008, almost 400 people were killed by someone exceeding the speed limit.

Safety cameras are one of the reasons why deaths on the road have fallen from around 5,000 a year at the start of the 1990s to 2,222 in 2009, and they must continue to play their part in the UK’s future road safety strategy.

Although it is unavoidable that public spending cuts will affect road safety – because they will affect every area of our lives – it is crucial that spending decisions are informed and based on clear evidence and data, and crude, blanket cuts are not imposed. Both central government and local authorities should carefully examine the evidence before deciding to cut funding in a way that means they will cease to operate.

Getting these hard decisions wrong will cost lives.

Reasons for enforcement
Excessive speeding kills hundreds of people a year: In 2008, 362 people were killed, and 1,935 seriously injured, because drivers or motorcyclists exceeded speed limits.1 A further 224 people were killed, and over 2,000 seriously injured in accidents where someone was travelling too fast for the conditions. Inappropriate speed also magnifies other driver errors, such as driving too close or driving when tired or distracted, multiplying the chances of these types of driving causing an accident. Even where speed is not the main factor in a crash, it fundamentally affects both the likelihood of the crash occurring, and its severity for those involved.

Speed cameras reduce speeding and save lives: Cameras are a very effective way of persuading drivers not to speed, and thereby reducing the number of people killed and seriously injured. An evaluation of their effectiveness in 20052 showed that they were saving around 100 lives a year, and preventing over 1,600 serious injuries. A wide range of UK and international research studies consistently show that cameras are very effective at saving lives.3

Without cameras, speed enforcement will disappear: Cameras enable a much higher level of speed enforcement to be conducted than is possible using police officers on their own. In 2008, cameras provided evidence for 84 per cent of the 1.2 million fixed penalty notices issued for speeding offences.4 Without cameras, the level of enforcement would almost certainly dwindle to a very low level, especially as the Police service is also facing financial cuts. The deterrent against speeding would almost completely disappear. It is highly likely that speeding would increase, followed inexorably by an increase in the number of people killed and injured on the road.

Saving money

Speed cameras save money: Not only do safety cameras save lives and prevent injury, they also save the public purse many millions of pounds. Apart from their human cost, road accidents are extremely expensive in financial terms. Safety cameras more than pay for themselves, and so from a purely financial point of view, cutting them does not make sense. The four year evaluation of the national safety camera programme estimated that the annual economic benefit of cameras in place at the end of the fourth year was over £258 million, compared with enforcement costs of about £96 million.2

Cameras are educational, not just punitive: Cameras are an effective way of identifying drivers who would benefit from attending a Speed Awareness Course, and so they provide a good opportunity to re-educate, and not just punish, drivers who are caught speeding but who are not massively violating speed limits. These courses are now becoming available across the country. Even where drivers are fined and given penalty points, this acts as a warning to the driver to consider their driving before they begin to tot-up further points, with the risk of being disqualified if they gain 12 or more points.

Delivering education
Road Safety Partnerships do more than speed enforcement: Road Safety Partnerships, which manage safety cameras around the country, do many more road safety activities in addition to operating the cameras. They are heavily involved in delivering road safety education services, as well as other types of road safety enforcement. For example, the Kent & Medway Safety Camera Partnership use safety camera vans for mobile phone and seatbelt offences, and in one six-month period detected 108 drivers using a hand-held mobile phone and 859 people failing to wear their seat belts.5

The war on motorists is a myth: Despite claims about a war on motorists, Home Office data shows that the number of speeding tickets issued from cameras has been falling in recent years.6 There were substantial rises during the first half of the decade, but then reductions from 2004/2005. The reasons for the reductions are not clear, but will probably include a fall in the number of drivers speeding (In 1999, 67 per cent of car drivers exceeded the 30 mph speed limit; by 2009 this had dropped to 48 per cent7) and an increasing proportion of the drivers who are caught by a speed camera being able to do a Speed Awareness Course instead of receiving the fine and penalty points.
Wider strategy
Cameras support the wider road safety strategy: Cameras are only one part of a comprehensive road safety strategy, which has helped to reduce deaths on Britain’s roads from around 5,000 a year at the start of the 1990s to 2,222 in 2009. Persuading drivers to drive at safe speeds requires a mix of enforcement, education and engineering. Cameras are used alongside road engineering measures, such as better speed limit signing, traffic calming and road design, and education measures, such as publicity campaigns and driver training.

Many car drivers unintentionally exceed the speed limit, often without realising it. Modern cars are so powerful and comfortable they give drivers little sensation of their speed. It is too easy to creep above the limit, but there are some simple and practical things drivers who find it difficult to stay with speed limits can do to help themselves.

A world leader
Cameras are one of the reasons Britain is a world leader in road safety: The UK has one of the best road safety records in the world, and in common with other countries that have very good road safety records (Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia) has included speed management in its road safety strategies. The importance of addressing speed is also included in UN Resolution 62/244, ‘Improving global road safety’8, which underlines “the importance for Member States to continue using the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention as a framework for road safety efforts and implementing its recommendations by paying particular attention to five of the main risk factors identified, namely, the non-use of safety belts and child restraints, the non-use of helmets, drinking and driving, inappropriate and excessive speed and the lack of appropriate infrastructure”.

An EC project, SUPREME,9 to identify the best ways of preventing road deaths gave the speed camera programme in the UK the highest rating, citing it as best practice, and highlighting the structured programme, with national guidelines on the deployment of cameras, the use of local partnerships to manage them, and the arrangements to use fine revenue for other road safety measures.

Public support
There is strong public support for cameras: The original Safety Camera Partnerships commissioned surveys in their areas to assess the public’s views about cameras. The level of support was consistently high with 79 per cent of people agreeing “the use of safety cameras should be supported as a method of reducing casualties”. Two thirds (68 per cent) of those questioned agreed that the primary use of cameras was to save lives.2

Public opinion surveys continue to be conducted regularly. A very recent example is one by the South Yorkshire Safety Camera Partnership of over 3,000 residents across the county that showed that 80 per cent of South Yorkshire residents think that safety cameras are meant to encourage drivers to drive within the speed limits, and 55 per cent thought that safety cameras (fixed cameras, mobile cameras and average speed cameras) are the most effective type of speed enforcement.10

Speed Cameras Communiqué
Speed Cameras Communiqué: issued by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents on behalf of the undersigned on Tuesday, 24 August 2010.  

We the undersigned agree that: Speed cameras help to save lives – an estimated 100 lives a year in the UK. Lives are saved by reducing speeding. Speeding significantly increases the risk of an accident happening; and also increases the severity of injuries in an accident.

Cameras should continue to be used where casualty statistics show they are needed. Switching off cameras systematically would be close to creating a void in law enforcement on the road. Cameras currently account for 84 per cent of fixed penalty notices for speeding.

Cuts might also threaten many speed awareness courses that give motorists an opportunity to learn about the dangers of driving too fast.

While public spending needs to be cut, cuts must be justified by evidence. Cameras pay for themselves and currently make an important contribution to achieving compliance with the speed limit.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA): Tom Mullarkey MBE, chief executive
The AA: Edmund King, president
Association of Industrial Road Safety Officers (AIRSO): Graham Feest, secretary
CTC – the UK’s National Cyclists’ Organisation: Kevin Mayne, chief executive
GEM Motoring Assist: David Williams MBE FIRSO, chief executive
Institute of Road Safety Officers: Darren Divall, chairman
London Road Safety Council: Councillor Peter Herrington, chairman
Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS): Robert Gifford, executive director
Road Safety GB: Alan Kennedy, chairman

1.Contributory factors to reported road accidents, Department for Transport, 2010.
2.The National Safety Camera Programme: Four-year Evaluation Report by University College London & PA Consulting. Published by Department for Transport, December 2005
3.RoSPA Speed CamerasFactsheet 2010, RoSPA, 2010
4.Police Powers and Procedures 2008/09, England and Wales, Home Office April 2010
5.Safety camera vans now enforcing mobile phone and seat belt offences, Kent & Medway Safety Camera Partnership News Release, 8 Sept 2009
6.Police Powers and Procedures 2008/09, England and Wales, Home Office April 2010
7.Road Statistics 2009: Traffic, Speeds and Congestion, Department for Transport, 2010
8.Resolution 62/244. Improving global road safety, General Assembly Sixty-second session, 25 April 2008
9.Summary and Publication of Best Practices in Road Safety in the Member States. Thematic Report – Enforcement
10.South Yorkshire Safety Camera Partnership – Survey results show support for safety cameras in South Yorkshire

For more information
Tel: 0121 278 2000
Fax: 0121 278 2001
E-mail: help@rospa.com
Web: www.rospa.com

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