Sunday, October 26, 2008

In defence of speed cameras

Much has been written about Swindon Council's decision to ban speed cameras with Longrider , as usual, writing a very good piece:

I see that the righteous (TM Leg-Iron) are getting their knickers in a predictable knot over the decision by Swindon Council to do away with their speed cameras.

The decision is a pragmatic one underpinned by common sense – something that is sadly lacking in politics today – both at a local and national level.

Swindon has became the first town in the UK to do away with fixed-point speed cameras.

The nine-strong cabinet of the Tory-run council voted unanimously in favour of withdrawing from the Wiltshire and Swindon Safety Camera Partnership.

This does not mean – as the righteous would have us believe – that Swindon is about to become a boy racer’s paradise.

Police will still be out and about with hand-held speed-measuring devices. Mr Greenhalgh added: “We will be working very closely with our partners, including police in the road safety partnership to deliver a plan that reduced the number of people being killed on the roads in Swindon.”

This is how enforcement should work – it should be dynamic and respond to changes in traffic flows and patterns. The police, being people, will be able to make judgements about where to place traps (as, indeed, they used to do before the obsession with cameras). They will also be able to observe the offender’s driving and make a judgement about whether to caution or prosecute. Sometimes a ticking off along with a lecture about appropriate speed for the circumstances, along with a caution is the correct response to an otherwise competent driver who is marginally over the speed limit. This, of course, flies in the face of the righteous’ shrill assertions that “speed kills”. It does not. What does kill is bad driving, which may, or may not, involve excessive speed for the situation. Driving is a holistic activity and there is more to it than speed. Indeed, too much time concentrating on the speedometer is counter productive. The driver should be watching the road for changing conditions, road hazards and traffic and adjust the drive accordingly.

I'm not about to join the ranks of the Righteous* but at the same time I don't think speed cameras were all bad; it was the capricious use of them and the police using them as an excuse not to to police the roads properly that is the problem.

One of the unintended consequences of the shift from policing to the reliance on speed cameras is that bad and selfish drivers can ignore speed limits, general driving laws and driving etiquette, safe in the knowledge that the police won't be around to catch them. Only today someone went past me as I was doing 30mph in a 30mph zone. He (it was a he) probably knew there weren't any cameras through this village and didn't seem to care that he did this at the entrance to a children's play area.

So why would I defend speed cameras, especially as I am not averse to speeding on motorways and de-restricted area? Because when they are used judiciously they wake up the dozy driver who isn't paying attention. Let me give an example of something I see al too often, and not just on this road.

I regularly travel the B282 from Marlow to Stokenchurch. The speed limit leaving Marlow is 30mph and a few times I have been overtaken in it or seen a car in front pulling away from me. Once we hit the de-restricted area I get my foot down** and invariably get stuck behind one of these cars and it is impossible to pass. We then dawdle along at 45 or 50mph until we reach Lane End.

At this point we hit another 30mph zone, I slow down and the car in front starts pulling away without even a blip on their brake lights to acknowledge the change is speed limits. Once through Lane End I catch them and the whole thing starts again, with me stuck until we get to the 40mph zone of Cadmore End, when they get to pull away again.

Its not that they are speeding that worries me, its that they obviously aren't paying attention because their speed doesn't vary. One has to wonder how they would cope if, say, a child stepped out? In this case I think a camera on entry to Lane End would slow them down and once they have slowed they are more likely to at least start paying attention to the world around them.

What is really galling is that there is a speed camera on the way out of Lane End to Marlow which is obviously there for revenue generation.

So, whilst in general I agree that Swindon Council's move is to be applauded, I just hope they haven't thrown the baby out with the bath water.

*Leg Iron has a wonderful autobiographical series of posts about the Righteous, which start here.

** I tend to limit my speed to 70mph max on this stretches, depending on the weather, road conditions and time of day

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