London, 6 Jun 2002.
For immediate release.

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Covert Speed Enforcement Must Go!
The Association of British Drivers welcomes new rules for siting and visibility of speed cameras in some counties but calls for standards to be applied nationally and the outlawing of all hidden camera prosecutions within 6 months.
The ABD applauds the recent announcement from the Home Office that speed cameras in hypothecation counties which do not comply with its guidelines for siting criteria are to be removed. This refreshingly pragmatic approach demonstrates that it has finally begun to dawn on government that - contrary to the claims of their more zealous proponents - speed cameras are not the panacea for every road safety problem; but can play a significant role in reducing casualties in very specific circumstances.

Whilst the new rules will spur on some counties in hypothecation areas who have shown reluctance to convert their cameras, the government still (despite promises) have not announced any rules for the remaining majority of counties, many of whom clearly have no intention of changing their policies of hiding cameras behind trees and signs on safe roads. A Surrey County Council spokesman recently told us "we have no proposals at present to retrospectively convert existing cameras".

ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries said:

"The government must send a clear message to ALL local authorities that the rules must be complied with by outlawing all prosecutions from hidden cameras in 6 months time. It's the only way that rogue authorities will comply. Cameras should be there to reduce speeds in danger areas, not to catch drivers out".
The Association would propose two further modifications to the guidelines to enhance the effectiveness of a automated speed enforcement devices.

The current guidelines suggest that a site may be suitable for automated speed enforcement measures if there have been 4 Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI), or 8 personal injury accidents per Kilometre in the preceding 3 years.

This criterion, while seemingly sensible on initial consideration, fails to take into account two vital factors: 1. Traffic volumes. An inherently safe road, which is subject to very high traffic flows may thus erroneously appear to fall into the Home Office's high accident risk location categorisation; while a quieter road with much lower traffic flows but - related to traffic volumes - an equally poor (or worse) casualty record may not. 2. By measuring accidents per kilometre a distance is implied yet there is no reference as to what that distance should be. If, for example four KSI accidents occurred over a 1 km interval in a 100km stretch, could this be misused to place a camera on the safest straight in that 100km?".

It would therefore be more effective to categorise accident blackspots based on the casualty rate at that spot per billion vehicle km (per Bn Vkm); and to then focus attention on locations with, say, accident rates 50% or more higher than the average death rate across all UK roads of 7.85 deaths per Bn Vkm.

Secondly, it is essential to ascertain that illegal speed is actually the primary cause of accidents at a blackspot location. One drunken driver can seriously injure four occupants of a car. Whilst his speed may have contributed slightly, this doesn't justify a speed camera.

Speed will always be factor in road accidents (an absence of road users in motion self-evidently means there is no potential for accidents), but the evidence suggests that speed per se is seldom the primary causal factor in road traffic accidents.

Therefore, siting a speed camera at a blackspot where traffic speed is NOT the primary factor causing road accidents may have some effect on accident severity, but it will not remove the underlying cause of - or the potential for - further accidents. In such situations, alternative, non-speed related engineering measures will always be preferable to - and more effective than - speed enforcement in cutting casualties.

Installing speed cameras in such locations is arguably tantamount to the cynical exploitation of a dangerous road configuration for revenue-raising purposes. What is actually required, of course, is the re-engineering of the road configuration to eliminate the risk factors recurrently causing traffic accidents. While this often represents the more expensive solution in the short term, it only requires the prevention of four fatalities (at the Home Office's estimated cost to society of £1.2m per fatality) through road engineering to recover e.g., the cost of the replacement of an old-fashioned in-grade perpendicular junction by a motorway-style graded junction on a national speed limit dual carriageway.

Unfortunately the official preference has of late been for short-term revenue generation over long-term accident prevention. Perhaps these recent developments aimed at reining-in the excesses of speed camera enforcement signal a subtle, but welcome change in official road safety policy. The regulations must however be enforced nationally and consistently not just in some areas.

 

Notes for Editors