Monday, 4 January 2010

Do Speed Cameras Save Lives?

Do Speed Cameras Save Lives? "Yes, they do, is the short answer," says Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. "A four-year evaluation of their effectiveness concluded that 100 lives were saved every year." The same study concluded that there was a 40% reduction in the number of deaths and injuries on roads with speed cameras.

Gifford says Road deaths fell below 3,000 for the first in 2007 and speed is a contributing factor in one in three road deaths. If you go back 10 years ago, "70% of drivers driving in free-flow traffic broke the 30mph speed limit. Now it's 49%. There has been a big decrease in the deaths of pedestrians, and that is partly due to cameras in urban areas." Whilst there was an overall reduction of 14% in people killed on our roads in 2008, this was not reflected in the same reduction for pedestrians. We have an emerging picture that our road safety measures are increasingly being skewed away from helping pedestrians and built up areas.

Tory-run Swindon borough council removed speed cameras and cut spending the £400,000 a year on other road-safety measures. Peter Greenhalgh, head of transport in Swindon, says speed cameras are "a blatant tax on the motorist" and a "cash cow". The Treasury, not local councils, keeps the proceeds of the fines. With Tory councils, and perhaps a Government, looking for cuts, this may be the shape of things to come for many of us.

Road safety groups have accused Swindon council of experimenting with people’s lives today after the town became the first in the UK to abolish speed cameras. Jane Whitham, a spokeswoman for Brake, the national road safety charity, said that the controversial choice could result in more deaths in the area. “Brake wholeheartedly opposes this reckless decision.”

The Department for Transport receives £104 million per year from the fines and gives councils £110 million to pay for their own road safety measures. That money is allocated according to traffic accident statistics leaving some councils with bigger handouts than others.

Neil Greig, research and policy director at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, claimed that Swindon’s decision could diminish the reputation of speed cameras. “This move by one local authority smacks of tokenism, and may fuel public cynicism that the priority is saving cash rather than saving lives. To describe revenue from safety cameras as a ’tax’ is emotive, but not true,” he said. “Properly placed fixed safety cameras are just one road safety tool, not a substitute for active road policing or long-term engineering improvements. They should be in addition to cops in cars, not scrapped.”

Some motorists have welcomed the abolition of speed cameras but Edmund King, the AA president, reacted with caution. He said: “It is fine to remove cameras if they are replaced by cops in cars and interactive slow down signs. However, we do not want to see a road safety void in Swindon. Saving lives on the road is more important than party political wrangles over camera funding.”

The number of traffic police has fallen by a fifth in the past decade, with traffic laws now largely being enforced by cameras (Ben Webster writes). There are now 1,507 fewer police officers engaged in patrolling the roads than there were in 1998, when the number was 7,806, according to a written answer to a question in the Commons. Over the same period the number of camera fines more than quadrupled to two million. The AA said that cameras were an inadequate substitute for police because they could not detect a drunk driver.

The Speed cameras were turned off in Swindon on the 31st July 2009 so not enough time has passed to properly judge it yet. Top Gear declared him a hero. Reading Tory Cllr Richard Willis says we may be next in Reading. For evidence he cites the Sun. Even they admit non-fatal accidents have risen from four in 2008 to six this year, according to Wiltshire and Swindon Safety Camera Partnership. In the first three months of the ban just 1,033 drivers were caught by mobile cameras - compared to 2,227 snared by fixed ones in the same period last year.

Here is a scary satistic. Pedestrians make up 21% of road deaths in Britain compared to just 9.4% in the Netherlands and 11.4% in Sweden. Britain’s percentage pedestrian deaths is one of the highest in Europe.

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