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Sunday, 17 June 2007

Speed cameras

Speed cameras are a blunt instrument and a danger to the general public. I have witnessed the aftermath of several nasty accidents caused by poor driving around speed camera sites. Much of the following is drawn from Safe Speed. Speed cameras save lives because "Speed Kills" is he mantra that has come from The Department for Transport (DfT) for some years now. Let's examine the evidence...

Motorway Roadworks seem to attract speed cameras, many are now the lovely average speed cameras that seem so much more intrusive and dangerous as you drive with more than half an eye on your speedometer lest you stray more than 1mph over the ridiculously low limit set on the two mile stretch of road, meanwhile you cannot help but notice that although the road is coned off and there appears to have been some activity in the past, there is nobody working on the road at 11am on a Tuesday. Safe Speed issued a Freedom of Information request to the DfT in May 2005 and discovered the following:
effect on PIAs____________________Road works__________________open motorway
Analogue speed cameras___________55% increase_________________31% increase
Digital speed cameras___________4.5% increase_________________6.7% increase
Police patrols___________________27% reduction________________ 10% reduction

PIA = Personal Accident Injury

The truth is in the figures but of course the Executive Summary and the press releases try and hide the truth. Safe Speed identify different ways that the truth was hidden and I repeat them below but I have changed the order to reflect the seriousness of the offence:

1) The report's conclusions lump together the benefit of Police patrols (called 'other') with the disbenefit of the cameras to yield a neutral result - as reported in the executive summary.

2) The disbenefit of cameras has not been calculated out, highlighted or made clear - although the source figures are there.

3) The executive summary comparison groups are not "road works with camera : road works without camera" instead they are "road works with camera : open motorway without camera" this is how they get to claim the 1% and 2% benefits in the executive summary. In fact serious injuries are down in all road works sections irrespective of camera use.

4) Report not announced to the public - With the summary report mislinked on TRL web site

5) Report (paid for with public money by the Highways Agency) not available for public download (we had to pay £40 for it).

As I have reported before, many journalists are not happy with interpreting information presented in tables and so rely upon Executive Summaries and similar material. Perhaps a few more journalists with some mathematical knowledge might be a good idea. Maybe journalists will start looking into government figures rather more closely when there is next a Conservative government!

Safe Speed draw some conclusions from the Report and here they are:
"TRL595 is a large scale study - 4 times the size of its recent predecessors. We have absolutely no reason to doubt the honesty of the study because it really does not say what the paymasters would have liked to hear.

Road works are safer than open motorways because although the crash rate is similar, accident severity in road works is reduced.

Speed cameras are very strongly associated with an increase in the number of crashes and an increase in the severity of crashes.

We must remove speed cameras from UK motorways as an urgent matter of public safety.

We must find out who was responsible for keeping this report hidden for 18 months.

We must find out what the Highways Agency have to say for themselves about continuing to use dangerous speed cameras in UK motorway road works.

It is an OUTRAGE that TRL595 didn't fundamentally change the use of speed cameras on UK motorways, and especially at road works sections.

All those drivers convicted in the last 18 months of exceeding the speed limit by speed camera evidence should have their points refunded. Such speed camera operations - known to make the roads more dangerous should NEVER have been allowed."


Later in 2005 the DfT reported reluctantly and to little publicity that neglect of a statistical bias had exaggerated the main benefit of speed cameras by 400%. The claimed "100 lives per year saved at speed camera sites" was downgraded to 25 lives saved.

In June 2006 the DfT discovered that the ongoing beneficial trend in road crash serious injuries was only a feature of the way these crashes were reported. Hospitalisation statistics don't show the same trend and road deaths don't show the same trend.

In September 2006 the DfT discovered that the proportion of injury crashes involving any speeding vehicle nationally was only 5% - not the 'one third' that they had previously claimed. Remember, "speed kills", it appears not necessarily, not that there was any change in publicity.

In January 2007 the method of funding speed cameras was changed and some (including Safe Speed) believe that the lack of ring fencing will reduce the number of speed cameras. I disagree, speed cameras are getting cheaper as the move to digital technology increases in pace and many local authorities are vehemently anti-car, they would rather sacrifice refuse collections and services for the elderly than see a reduction in drivers being penalised for daring not to use public transport.

In March 2007 a Freedom of Information request enabled Safe Speed to discover that the speed camera side effects research (announced in May 2005) had been axed. I can only assume that preliminary findings had reported that speed cameras were making road safety worse, otherwise why would the research have been cancelled?

What can you do to fight speed cameras? You could sign up to the petition on the Number 10 website. You could write to your MP and ask what he is doing to get the May 2005 preliminary research released. You could join Safe Speed and you could also make more people aware of the facts, especially on any radio phone-ins.

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