Sunday, 11 November 2007

Speed cameras - The lies revealed

I have blogged about the lies told about speed cameras by this government and its associated "policy think tanks" but yesterday's Daily Telegraph had a very interesting article that brings a lot of the FACTS together. Please take a read of the whole of this article it is worth it. Here are some key quotes:
"A DfT strategy paper claimed speed was "a major contributory factor in about a third of all road accidents". The "excessive and inappropriate speed" that helped "to kill about 1,200 people" each year was "far more than any other single contributor to casualties on our roads". The source given for this claim, to be repeated as a mantra by ministers and officials for years to come, was a report from the government's Transport Research Laboratory, TRL Report 323: "A new system for recording contributory factors in road accidents". Not many people would have looked at this report, since it was only available for £45. But some who did were amazed. The evidence the report had cited to support its claim that speed was "a major contributory factor in about a third of all road accidents" simply wasn't there. Many other factors were named as contributing to road accidents, from driving without due care and attention to the influence of drink; from poor overtaking to nodding off at the wheel. But the figure given for accidents in which the main causative factor was "excessive speed" was way down the list, at only 7.3 per cent."

"TRL's own report. Not only did it cite excessive speed as the "definite"' cause in only 4.5 per cent of accidents, but it found that speed was a "probable" or "possible contributory factor" in only 8.2 per cent more. Not only was the government thus bending the truth; it had brought pressure on the TRL to give a wholly misleading picture of its own findings. The more the government's case was examined, the more statistically dubious it became. So determined was it to claim that speed was the chief cause of accidents, it would stop at nothing in misrepresenting the evidence."

"Even more simplistically, the government also seemed to be defining "excessive speed" much too narrowly, only in terms of exceeding a speed limit. In fact its own figures showed that only 30 per cent of accidents attributed to "excessive speed" actually involved breaking a speed limit. The vast majority, 70 per cent, involved vehicles travelling within the limit."

"In 2003, to justify its "safety camera" policy, the government produced a report purporting to show that, where cameras had been installed, the accident rate had been reduced by "35 per cent". But again it was manipulating the figures. Several significant confounding factors had been left out of the calculations; not least the fact that, on many sites, cameras had been installed following an atypical blip in the accident rate. When the rate had fallen back to its previous average level (regression to the mean) this allowed the government to ascribe the reduction to a camera. So great now was the pressure on ministers, officials and the police to keep on repeating the two key official mantras - "a third of accidents are caused by speed" and "speed cameras reduce accidents by 35 per cent" - that few were prepared to challenge them. One exception was Paul Garvin, chief constable of Durham, who refused to install speed cameras, In an interview, Garvin explained why. He insisted that, while he believed strongly in "casualty reduction and trying to make the roads safer", he could not agree that curbing speed was the central answer. The statistics for Durham showed that, of 1,900 collisions each year, only three per cent involved cars that were exceeding the speed limit, just 60 accidents a year. Look more closely at the causes of these 60 accidents, the "actual cause of the accident invariably is drink-driving or drug-driving". Drug-taking was now involved in 40 per cent of Durham's fatal road accidents. Many accidents, he said, were caused by fatigue, although one of the most common causes was the failure of drivers to watch out for oncoming vehicles when turning right. To none of these could speed cameras offer any remedy. "The cause of accidents," Garvin concluded, "is clearly something different from exceeding the speed limit"."

The TRL had found that, where fixed cameras were installed at road works, the risk of accidents giving rise to injury was increased by 55 per cent. Where fixed cameras were installed on open motorways the risk was increased by 31 per cent. In general, fatal and serious crashes were 32 per cent more likely where cameras were being operated. But conventional police patrols reduced the risk of crashes by 27 per cent at road works, and 10 per cent elsewhere. The report bore out precisely the case Smith had been making. But the DfT had ruled that it was not to be published. If a copy had not been passed to Smith, to be reported on the Safe Speed website, it might never have seen the light of day."

"In the summer of 2006, the DfT itself published a paper noting the curious discrepancy between the road-accident figures as reported by the police and those shown by the records of NHS hospitals. While the police were claiming that the yearly number of people killed or seriously injured had dropped since the mid-1990s by 33 per cent, the hospitals gave a very different picture. According to the police, the total number of emergency hospital admissions following traffic accidents in 1994/95 was 38,641, which by 2002/03 had dropped to 31,010. According to the NHS, however, the respective figures were 32,285 and 36,611."

"In September 2006, the DfT finally conceded one of the central points that Safe Speed's Paul Smith had been arguing for five years: that only five per cent of road accidents were caused by drivers who were breaking the speed limit. In The Daily Telegraph, Smith was quoted as saying "the government's case for continuing to install cameras has been destroyed"."

1 comment:

Bent Society said...

Hi. Regarding speed cameras - I am a criminologist researching certain aspects of modern british life for a book I am writing. My blog site Bent Society is at:

I am looking for materials such as those you have mentioned regarding the evidence for whether or not speed cameras do reduce the death and injury toll on our roads.

I would be very grateful if you post a comment on today's post on this subject and/or any of the posts that will be published next week.