Speed cameras play an important safety role

Speed cameras play an important safety role

by Liam Kerr
article from Tuesday 4, July, 2017

I was asked recently to comment on figures sourced by the Scottish Conservatives, that showed that almost a third of speeding fines in Scotland come from Fife, Tayside and Central Scotland. In this area, approximately £1.3 million was generated from on the spot fines, the highest in Scotland. What is more, the overall amount that speeding motorists are being fined has also dramatically increased from £4.6 million two years ago to a staggering £5.09 million this year, an increase of almost half a million pounds.  

Speed cameras, whether mobile or fixed, should, and do, play an important safety role and I am interested in how that role is allocated and applied. In particular, this followed my own experience a few weeks ago when I approached the Northbound 50 mph fixed camera at Laurencekirk junction on the A90 to discover a mobile unit sitting underneath it, pointing back the other way. This appeared to me to defy logic and so I resolved to find out the rules!

The RAC state that a speed camera must be used in accident-prone areas to have the most significant impact on reducing speed-related injuries and deaths. Indeed, they should be reminders to adhere to the speed regulations in place.

But, I would argue, if that purpose becomes “contaminated” by a desire simply to raise revenue, then the stated ethos becomes diminished.

In my view they should not be used as revenue generators but nor, in my view, should they always be used in a reactionary rather than preventative and precautionary manner.

The Scottish safety camera programme handbook, sets out the minimum requirements for a speed camera to be deployed in a particular area. For a fixed camera, the length of “site” (the area it covers) must not exceed 1km and for a mobile camera, must not exceed 10km.  This means that the minimum requirements which must be in place to deploy a speed camera (per Annex A of the Scottish Safety Camera Programme Handbook such as average speed of traffic, fatality rate etc.) only count within that allotted stretch of road.  

And according to s.5.2 and Annex A of the handbook, a camera location must fulfil multiple criteria – such as whether the road traffic authorities think the speed limit is appropriate and whether there is an appropriate location for the camera - before it can be deployed.  

One of the key criteria involves evidence of incidents. It uses a points-based system:

Fatal collision – 3 points

Serious Collision – 2 points

Slight collision – 1 point.

Seven points are required for a fixed camera to be considered. The Annex states that this is the minimum requirement.  Therefore, before it can even be considered for a camera, seven points must have accrued.  

Points stay “on file” for three years – for example a slight collision in 2014 will remain available for consideration until 2017.  

Whilst this means that accidents from a few years previous are not forgotten, it does throw up its own set of problems.

Firstly, a lot can happen in three years.

Different problems may arise due to speeding or road conditions but are not picked up by the points system.  

In effect the system becomes reactionary instead of precautionary.  

For example, let’s say a section of road attracts a number of “speeders” but, despite many near accidents there are no collisions: no points will accrue and thus no camera.

Secondly let’s say two fatal collisions happen on a defined stretch, in the space of a few months; there would nevertheless be insufficient points to warrant a camera, assuming no other accident had occurred over the previous three years.

Again a reactionary rather than precautionary approach, the reversal of which might be better in reducing accidents.

Notwithstanding the points system, s.5.3 of the handbook indicates that new sites are only considered on a yearly basis. Thus it is conceivable that there could be two fatal accidents on the same stretch of road but it could be a further six months before the relevant authorities even consider the site for a camera.

The situation is slightly different for Mobile Cameras. These only require 6 points to be deployed to a particular stretch, equal to two fatal collisions: which immediately begs questions, not only as to why there is a difference at all but also why such a small difference!?

There is another nuance: mobile cameras can be deployed at short notice if they are “needed” or “concerns” are raised. However nowhere can I find objective clarity on the definition of a “concern” or the relative hierarchy between the points based system and a “concern”.  Which in turn begs a question around whether, if it were the case that a “concern” could overrule the points-based system, why have a points based system at all for mobile cameras? And why talk about “concerns” if they don’t, in turn, contribute towards “points”?  

If the deployment of cameras, whether fixed or mobile, was solely about safety, oughtn’t there to be a system that is not entirely reactive, rigidly defined and applied (as with the points-based system) such that fixed cameras were deployed, not only at accident blackspots, but also areas of “concern” such as long straights on dual carriageways where people are observed to have excessive speed but accidents are low or non-existent?

Then ensure that mobile units are sited where “concern” has a genuine and defined meaning which is documented and discoverable with a clear endgame?

In that way we might be able to use our finite resources to keep us all safer on the roads, rather than at present where they can, so some, appear to be deployed to ensure maximum revenue generation from inadvertent or marginal speeding in otherwise safe areas.

Ultimately the motorist has to have confidence in the ethos, application and appropriateness of the system and I’m not sure that at the moment that is something that can be taken as read.

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