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Speed cameras

This page was created by the BBC.

By BBC Action Network team

The first speed camera in the UK was placed on Twickenham Bridge in London in 1990 and now there are over 4,500 all over the country. However their popularity has not grown with their numbers.

Protest has been slowly growing in various forms, from militant protesters attacking the cameras themselves to a campaign to ‘starve the cameras’ of funds by keeping to the speed limit.

When we invited Action Network users to contribute their views and experiences of speed cameras, they showed that though drivers accept that there is a place for safety cameras they don’t think that the current way of using them is fair. What follows is a summary of the views we received.

'Cash generator'

David Marr thinks drivers are upset about where the cameras are placed: “Location is the key to earning drivers' respect. Near where I stay there is a camera located just over the crest of a hill before a hidden junction and near to a school. No problem. However further along there is a camera on a long straight through a run down industrial area, no crossings, no houses, no pedestrians so no accidents, looks like a cash generator to me.”

Brian Smith agrees, and is suspicious about the placing of a camera near him: “The road is open, 60mph and gently bending so it could be argued that a camera to keep motorists on their toes is justified. But it’s positioned just round the bend and that smacks of fund-raising to me.”

The management of most roadside cameras is now the responsibility of the 27 ‘safety camera partnerships’ set up jointly by the local police authority, the council and local magistrates. And Martin Hooper is concerned that the accident data which safety camera partnerships use to decide the locations of cameras is not easily available to the public: “Instead, we are told that this information is only available with a charge of several hundred pounds, or we are shunted off to the local authority who subsequently tell us the same thing.”

He feels that with cameras generating so much revenue, the reasoning behind the placement of each camera should be open to public scrutiny. This may help alleviate some drivers’ suspicions. The general understanding among drivers, expressed by David Marr, is that “accidents and/or safety issues should be the only criteria for siting cameras”.

It’s a sense of opportunism by those in charge of the cameras that has drivers feeling persecuted. “It’s ridiculous drivers are fined and taxed for everything,” says Rob Martin.

Peter Wright believes that if the cameras are there for safety reasons and not fundraising, then the fines and penalty points on the driver’s licence should be on a “sliding scale” - the further above the speed limit the more severe the punishment. He feels that this “would act as a greater deterrent but not over-penalise those only just over the limit”.

But Madasa Badger believes that without large fines the effectiveness of the cameras would be reduced: “As so many people are getting caught by speed cameras, the penalty is not enough of a deterrent and should be raised rather than Mr Blunkett’s suggestion of lowering it.”

Traffic calming zones

Cameras are often just one measure in schemes intended to improve safety. Steve Newell told Action Network users about a number of traffic calming measures recently placed on a road near him: “[The] speed camera has probably convicted a number of otherwise law abiding drivers of doing 35mph in a 30mph zone, most drivers travel at 35-40mph along this road, slowing for the camera if they see it or know it’s there.”

But another Action Network member suggests why the authorities want to keep drivers under 30mph: “Speeding 35mph in a 30mph zone. These zones are usually to be found in built up residential areas, near public footpaths which flank the road, close to schools, old people’s home, where wildlife wander and so forth. These are all good reasons to slow down.”

Could the cameras used in residential zones be made a little more flexible? Ann Rattle had an original suggestion: “I favour the reduction of speed limits in some areas at times when needed, e.g. outside schools when they are in use – but not at midnight.”


The question of speed and its relationship to accident statistics fuels many drivers’ feelings against speed cameras. How often is speed the decisive factor in vehicle accidents? As Roger Fraser puts it: “Generally, speed is not the problem, bad driving is! In depth investigations in other countries have shown that people who drive fast tend to drive better.”

Ann Rattles also questions the link between danger and speed: “Travelling at 100mph on a straight stretch of four-lane motorway, between junctions with no other traffic, is not in my mind reckless or dangerous. A 70mph speed limit is purely an arbitrary limit not based on the facts of the time and circumstances.”

This is an argument which Iain Mulady counters: “Why is it that everyone has an excuse for why the speed limit shouldn’t apply to them?... If your issue is the speed limit then go argue that – the cameras only enforce the law you should have been obeying in the first place.”

Policing the roads

One thing which both sides of the argument agree on is that cameras on their own are not a sufficient solution. “They do not punish the uninsured and reckless as they are more likely to simply ignore any fines (assuming they are ever traced anyway). They do not deal with the millions of motorists who create hazards by their failure to signal, or be observant of the world around them,” says Ann Rattle.

Roger Fraser summed it up: “We need to bring back police patrols to pick up the bad driver – i.e. those who tailgate, overtake on the inside, change lanes without warning, etc.” It’s the one thing that everyone on both sides of the argument seems to agree on. None of them would be happy if cameras are used as a reason to reduce police patrols.



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