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The failure of speed cameras

Road safety expert Idris Francis says councillors should not be bullied by those "more interested in saving face than saving lives."

 At this critical time for road safety I wish to concentrate on giving Councillors the evidence that speed cameras were doomed to fail and worse.

  • Supposed speed camera benefit is limited to a few 100 yards of the cameras, less than 3% of urban and 1% of rural roads. Even if sites are well chosen this inherently limits benefits to low levels.
  • Police Stats19 data shows 5% slight, 6% all, 8% serious, 9% KSI and 14% Fatal accidents involve speed above limits, but only 2% (All) and 6% (Fatal) in terms of overall frequency of occurrence. The
    speeding box is ticked speeding was involved or might have been, resulting in overstatement of the figures.
  •  The DfT admits that eliminating all speeding (cameras do not) would not eliminate even those percentages because many other causal factors remain.
  • It follows that speed cameras, taking a substantial part of road safety budgets cannot eliminate even 0.5% of national accident totals, a figure so small as to be swamped by random variations, long
    term trends and unintended consequences. This is why the authorities routinely overstate, and only ever quote, benefits “at our sites”.
  • The DfT cancelled a 2006 investigation of adverse effects, claiming that there cannot be any. In reality there are nearly 40, such as  sudden braking, time spent looking at speedometers or parked
    white vans instead of the road, and suicides of drivers fearing loss of licenses and jobs. Others include cuts in police patrols that monitor and inhibit all forms of dangerous driving not just speeding.
    Most of these effects occur across the entire road network, not just 3% of it and do not have to be substantial to overcome minimal camera benefits. The results show that they do.
  • For 50 years prior to cameras deaths relative to traffic fell by 5% pa compound increasing to 7% pa (due to improving vehicles, roads and systems and slowing traffic growth. From the mid 1990s to 2007 the rate fell to less than 3% pa, with an accumulated total of 10,000 more dead than had the 7% pa trend continued. These figures - fact, not opinion - are amongst the most reliable figures in road safety.
  • The reasons for the adverse change are of course more subjective, but DfT figures show that neither drink driving, drugged driving, mobile phone offences or any other such cause can account for the scale of the change. However a graph of excess deaths closely matches a graph of the number of speed camera fines over 15 years.
  • The DfT have long admitted that only some 40% even of serious injuries (SI) are reported. The BMJ pointing out in 2006 that hospital SI records do not reflect the continuing falls in police Stats19
    figures, claimed  that the fall was entirely due to further falls in already low recording levels. It is reasonable to assume that slight injury reporting would have fallen in the same way, both due to more
    drivers with more penalty points preferring not to involve the police and indeed the worsening relations between public and police in part as a result of speed cameras.

In their 2008 Report Transcom stated that they were no longer prepared to believe Stats19 SI data because it was illogical that SI could continue to fall when fatality reductions slowed badly, when vehicles were becoming much safer and  when hospital, fire and rescue and motor insurance records show no such falls.

 In 2006 then Roads Minister Stephen Ladyman told Transcom that the funding system would be changed so that Partnerships would no longer be biased in favour of the speed cameras which generated their income  (as planners of the hypothecation scheme should surely have realised)  but would be free to use “other possibly more cost-effective methods”.

When Transcom asked for information on “more cost effective methods” the DfT submitted wholly bogus and misleading data and analysis claiming that cameras, though less effective than vehicle activated signs were 12% more cost effective. This information, in the 2006 Transcom Report, was such palpable nonsense that I wrote to object, only for Mrs. Dunwoody of Transcom and the DfT to reply flatly denying that it was misleading.

I then used FoI to obtain the real figures and forced Dr. Ladyman to write to Transcom admitting that the figures were wrong, and that cameras are not more but nine times less cost effective than vehicle activated signs. He also said that this made no difference!

Safe Speed fully documents this extraordinary attempt by the DfT to deny what they had known for years, that cameras were hopelessly ineffective in cost terms. It also includes all the figures showing that, based on 10 years life of the equipment, the real comparison is not a 9 but a 50 to 1 advantage for signs. There can therefore be no economic, moral or safety justification for continuing to operate any speed camera, let alone install more.

I circulated this information repeatedly to every police force and every camera partnership but was simply ignored, those in authority clearly being more interested in saving face than saving lives. The pro-camera head of a local government road safety officer refused point blank to circulate this information to his members, or even to admit the facts.

I therefore ask everyone and in particular any Councillor to copy this information to as many other Councillors across the country as possible so that they are aware not only that speed cameras are worse than useless, but also that signs can improve road safety even on today’s much reduced budget.


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