Back in August it was announced that the Road Safety Grant, like so much other central government funding was going to be ceased. The grant was around £80-£100 million per year and was given to local authorities to install and maintain their speed cameras. Ironically, it was a self-funded grant as the number of people breaking the speed limit in the UK remains so high that fines which were handed over from local authorities to central government were the same as the grant. Interestingly, national government is still happy to take the fines, but will no longer fund the speed cameras. Of course, local authorities, being charged with making cuts somewhere from 25%-40%, saw no sense in continuing with the speed cameras, which cost £40,000 each, because they get no money from them.
Speed cameras have always been controversial and online you can read how they were apparently part of Gordon Brown's 'Stasi state' (the Stasi being the secret police of East Germany), though ironically the first mobile speed cameras were introduced in 1982 under the Thatcher government. The technology had existed since 1905. Cameras are not only used to catch speeders but also people driving private cars down bus lanes or jumping red lights or approaching level crossings, and, around the City of London for security. They attracted greatest attention, however, from 1999 when Safety Camera Partnerships were introduced to promote the use of the cameras with 15% of the revenue from fines being used to improve road safety. Whilst the scheme ended in 2007, this use of the fine revenue to boost road safety in general and not simply to install or maintain cameras continued. The fines from speed cameras averaged around £1.3 million (€1.59 million; US$202 million) per year which suggests a lot of people violating traffic laws. They were increasingly portrayed as simply revenue raisers for local authorities and this led in the early 2000s to attacks on the cameras. Right-wing councils in the late 2000s began to be swayed by the populist arguments against them and in 2009 Swindon, which has an appalling road network (I tried to navigate it back in August), was the first to switch off its cameras, followed by Oxfordshire county council in July 2010 and many more since.
I have never seen speed cameras as having anything to do with revenue. I am glad that they were self-funding, but I am also disappointed that that was the case, because it suggests that so many people are driving dangerously. Very selfish people, and you can still find them very actively promoting their arguments across the internet, said speed cameras were actually a hazard, forcing people to slow down suddenly (despite the fact that most road maps and sat navs indicate very clearly, certainly since 2006 where the cameras are and there are always warning signs and markings on the road to show them) and to keep checking their speedometers (they must be bad drivers, I can tell how fast I am doing within 2-3 mph without looking at the speedometer, from experience I know). They often blame injury to pedestrians on the pedestrians rather than their speed. I have been struck by just how fast people do speed at especially in residential areas. Just within a few streets of my house (where cars should not exceed 30mph) I have seen a car which has crashed through a brick wall and into the front of a house; cars which have almost levelled lamp-posts and others which have literally gone into houses. Even with speed cameras in action people are driving too fast especially on rural roads and in residential areas. Portsmouth felt the problem was so serious as to introduce 20mph limit throughout most of the city.
What happened when the media covered the government's announcement of cut-backs and the statements from some local authorities that they were switching off their speed cameras? Well, I guess you could have been driving in any part of the UK to know the answer. Instantly drivers seemed to assume that no camera was working, even though in many areas, of course, there had not even been an announcement that they would be switched off. Of course, even if a camera is not there to catch you, you are still breaking the law. If you exceed 33mph in a 30mph area you can be stopped, arrested, prosecuted and fined, it just takes longer than if the camera was there. This is what the speeders disliked, that they would be caught by the camera, whereas they think they have far greater chances if it is left up to the police to catch them. Now, these reckless drivers feel they are free. It was reported in August that immediately some areas where there were police patrols, speeding offences had risen 90% once people believed the cameras were off. Worse than this, it is almost as if, freed from the worry about being caught on camera anywhere, many more drivers feel it is fine to speed and, in fact, that they need to demonstrate that freedom.
I often drive across a large housing estate filled with pets, young children and mothers with push chairs. A mother and child in a pushchair were killed when a car decided to overtake one that was slowing and just went straight into them. The whole estate has a 30 mph limit with a 40 mph limit on the roads around the diameter. The day after the announcements about the speed cameras (which are numerous along the route I take), I was driving across the estate OBEYING THE LAW, driving at 30mph and what do I get? I have cars and vans behind me, revving their engines, hooting me, gesticulating and then accelerating past me at 50 mph and faster, just because they feel they can. I am made to feel I am in the wrong, just for obeying the law and, in fact, fulfilling the duty of every driver, which is to drive in a way I feel is safe given the prevailing conditions, which may in many circumstances, for example, foggy or icy weather or during heaving rain or when schools are turning out the children, actually be slower than the stated speed limit. I am ridiculed and insulted for trying to keep myself and other people in the vicinity alive.
The Coalition government is going to pay a high price for its policy. The price ultimately will be financial for all the street furniture damaged and, above all, for the medical costs of all the additional children and adults who are going to be maimed and killed by reckless driving. In this ridiculous situation, in which the rights to be able to behave dangerously and to drive as fast as you like are somehow taken to be greater rights than the right to safety, I encourage anyone on a housing estate or in a village or anywhere else which particularly needs cars to drive safely, to take steps. It is ironic that you can be fined for making a fake hand-held and mounted speed cameras (even though there are companies specialising in fake cameras) and even making mannequins to look like police officers. I suggest we need to find ways, such as ensuring that those cars you find abandoned, are abandoned where they act as traffic bollards or they happens to be a lot of building materials delivered in piles which happen to narrow the road and slow up traffic or mannequins of small children appear along the roadsides or 'men at work' signs, one of which I found abandoned near my house as well as some police traffic cones, find their away to places where they may make a speeding motorist think twice. If this government is going to pander to the killers, and that is what these speeders are, then those of us in favour of life and the right to live it in safety, should act.
May I suggest, if there enough of you and you have enough time, you follow the example of the people of Chideock in Dorset. This is a lovely village in a very steep-sided narrow valley (appalling for radio and mobile phone reception) through which the A35, the main road connecting Bournemouth, Poole, Dorchester, Bridgport, Axminster and Exeter, runs. There is a pedestrian crossing which in May this year, Tony Fuller kept pressing and crossing the road. He did this with neighbours, totally legally, to bring the whole road to a standstill in protest at the noisy lorries which charge through this village every day, seemingly all hours of the day.
We need to assert that it is safety and not the right to be a killer that should win the day, despite the government's foolish step to pander to the ignorant of the UK by taking away the one tool which had actually helped make our roads that bit safer at a time when knowledge of road laws, let alone road custom and practice are at all time low.
In a situation like this I hate to be able to say 'I told you so'. However, it was with interest that I noted that Oxfordshire county council has decided to switch its speed cameras back on after a sharp rise in casualties since they were turned off in August 2010. There are 72 fixed cameras and 89 mobile ones in the county. In the period August 2010 to January 2011, 18 people were killed compared to 12 in the same period the previous year, i.e. August 2009 - January 2010. To my mind, 12 was still too high, but there has been a 50% increase since the ending of speed cameras. The rise in non-fatal injuries has been even greater, from 19 in the six month period of 2009/10 to 179 in 2010/11 period, more than an 800% increase. Interestingly, what drivers who overtake me seem unaware of, there was no general switching off of speed cameras, they are still on in many areas. The number of fines imposed for speeding has fallen from a peak of 2 million in 2005 to about 1 million today (that is 1 million individual fines, the sum of money raised is far higher), not due to better driving but because first time offenders can opt to go on a training course instead. Portsmouth has only turned off its speed cameras this month. This is a real shame as it is a city with a 20 mph speed limit in residential areas which I felt was a model for other towns. Bristol is another large urban centre which has only just switched off its speed cameras. An AA spokesman quoted in 'The Guardian' noted, the public announcement of the turning off of speed cameras had a grave effect on their deterrent impact. However, as I have noted here, I think that deterrent effect evaporated the moment the ending of the funding was announced and many drivers charge through towns assuming that no camera is on and I am glad to hear that many of them are being caught, however, it seems far too few. The real tragedy is those who have been injured or killed as a result of the turning off of cameras. If the level has risen that much just in the single county of Oxfordshire with a population of only 635,000 people (compared to 200,000 people living in Portsmouth and 420,000 people in Bristol; not their surrounding counties), then the national rise in casualties must be alarming. I imagine, however, that until one of these drivers is injured themselves or has a close family member injured they will not even think once about their speed and ironically perceive themselves as the oppressed freed by this wonderful coalition government [sarcasm].