Posts Tagged ‘speed cameras’

The RAC’s 25th annual Report on Motoring – published yesterday – was packed full of insights into the minds of the driving public. Predominantly based on a survey of 1542 British motorists carried out by Quadrangle, it covered subjects ranging from motoring taxation to the general cost of motoring to younger drivers.

Safety and behaviour was a central theme. Amongst the statistics highlighted were:

  • 21% of drivers admit to using their hand-held mobile phone at the wheel
  • 65% of motorists admit to having broken the 70mph speed limit on motorways, yet…
  • 92% say they are law abiding

There is some evidence to suggest motorists are behaving better. In 2011 there were 1.5 million fixed penalty notices issued for motoring offences, half of them for speeding offences. However the total figure was 18% down on 2010.

Perhaps one of the more noteworthy comments in the report came from the Head of Road Safety Statistics at the Department for Transport. In relation to 20mph zones – which have been increasingly rolled out across the country in place such as London, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Newcastle, but most notably in Portsmouth – Daryl Lloyd said:

“No sound conclusions can be drawn on the basis of Portsmouth’s 20mph limits alone. Unfortunately there is no specific national information on where all 20mph zones and limits are located. Therefore evaluating the changing relationship between accident rates, travel behaviour, wider health impacts and 20mph zones is challenging.”

This suggestion from officialdom of a lack of hard evidence as to the effectiveness of blanket 20mph zones underlines the need for proper assessment of road safety interventions. This should be the job of those in public office – or at least the people they employ – after all they are the ones who introduce the policies which affect us all. Yet with budget, and hence staffing, cuts continuing to be made both in Whitehall and town halls, is there the will and the resources to adequately do this?

The speed camera report the RAC Foundation published last Friday was met with a storm of comment – that was to be expected. But leaving aside the benefits or otherwise of cameras, it is a symptom of a wider problem that we felt obliged to do work in an area where in the past it might have been reasonable to expect the authorities to do it.


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Alongside the report the RAC Foundation published today on the effectiveness of speed cameras – based on data in 9 areas for a total of 551 cameras – the Foundation also asked Ipsos MORI to gauge opinion about the use of cameras amongst the Great British public.

The question asked as part of their online omnibus survey was this:

“To what extent do you think it is acceptable or unacceptable to use speed cameras in Britain to identify vehicles driving faster than the speed limit?”

At first glance the result might be surprising. 84% of respondents – 2,017 adults aged 16-75 – agreed that it was either very or fairly acceptable to do so.

However the response does follow an already observed pattern. For example look at a question posed to its members by our counterparts at the AA back in November 2010.

When asked in a Populus poll:

“It is now common for the police to use speed cameras at the side of the road to identify vehicles involved in speeding offences. How acceptable do you think this is?”

… 75% of those who responded said it was acceptable.

It would be a step too far to say most people loved speed cameras, but the vast majority seem to recognise a need for them.

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Analysis of data for 551 fixed speed cameras in 9 areas shows that on average the number of fatal and serious collisions in their vicinity fell by more than a quarter (27%) after their installation.

There was also an average reduction of 15% in personal injury collisions in the vicinity of the 551 cameras.

However the research also highlights 21 camera sites (in these areas) at which, or near which, the number of collisions appears to have risen enough to make the cameras worthy of investigation in case they have contributed to the increases.

The data was released in 2011 as part of a government move to make speed camera operations more transparent to the public. The analysis formed part of work – commissioned by the RAC Foundation and carried out by Professor Richard Allsop of University College London – to provide advice on interpreting speed camera data.

The estimates for collision reduction were made allowing for the more general downward trend in the number of collisions in the 9 areas in recent years, and for the effect of regression to the mean at sites where collision numbers were unusually high in the period before the cameras were installed.

The study comes in the wake of  the 2011 instruction from government that speed camera data going back to 1990, detailing accident statistics before and after fixed speed cameras were installed, be made publically available.

Since 2011 only a third (12 out of 36) of the organisations (a mixture of councils, police forces and safer roads partnerships) responsible for the figures have published the information in a format which complies with official Department for Transport guidance.

The RAC Foundation asked Professor Allsop to produce a guide for local authorities and other interested parties to help them interpret the data. As part of his work Professor Allsop studied data from nine of these authorities (with the data from one area being divided into two groups of cameras) and the results are as follows:

Partnership area Cameras in partnership area Average % fall (rise) in  collisions near camerasFatal or       All personal

Serious        injury

Number of cameras worthy of investigation

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 47 42 0 4
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland 15 53 29 0
Lincolnshire 50 15 9 0
Merseyside 33 (5) (10) 9
South Yorkshire 56 16 0 1
Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent – 1 42 44 32 3
Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent – 2 26 29 23 0
Sussex 55 36 21 1
Thames Valley 203 24 20 1
Warwickshire 24 38 25 2
TOTAL 551 27 15 21

Note: The Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent cameras naturally split into two clear groups. The first group contains cameras at sites where there were relatively few collisions and the second has sites at which there were relatively many.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“At the end of 2010 we published a report by Professor Richard Allsop which concluded that without speed cameras there would be around 800 more people killed or seriously injured each year at that time. Overall his new work reinforces those earlier conclusions, but crucially the study has also identified a number of camera sites in the vicinity of which collisions seem to have risen markedly. This may or may not be related to the cameras but warrants further investigation. Therefore, on the basis of this study, we have now written to a number of local authorities suggesting they examine the positioning and benefits of a total of 21 cameras.”

(An explanation of regression to the mean:

The occurrence of collisions at any one location is an infrequent event involving a degree of random chance. If there have been several incidents at a particular location over a few years it is possible this is partly due to bad luck. If a new speed camera is located at that site the chances are that the bad luck will not happen there again. So, some of any observed fall in collisions is not properly attributable to the installation of the camera. It is just a return to the long term, typical average. This bias must be corrected for to uncover the real benefit of the camera.)

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In the wake of the 2010 general election ministers promised to ‘end the war on the motorist’. It was made pretty clear that the use of fixed speed cameras was not the be all to end all in terms of speed enforcement. But the reality is that, two years, on, the majority of councils have retained their speed camera deterrents often to the same level of provision as prior to the announcement of the end of hostilities.

The RAC Foundation is today publishing data obtained using Freedom of Information requests to paint a picture of how many speed cameras there are in operation and where they are sited.

Of the 32 (out of 38) administrative organisations which have historically used fixed speed cameras, it appears that only three have abandoned them altogether: Avon & Somerset, Wiltshire & Swindon and Northhamptonshire.

The data shows that across England in 2012 there were at least 3,026 camera housings at 2,331 sites. (A site might have more than one housing, perhaps to cover different directions on the same stretch of road.) However there were only 487 actual cameras in operation, meaning that at any one time only one in six housings actually had a device in it. Of course the cameras are repeatedly moved about and drivers cannot be sure that any camera housing they pass is not operational. It shoud also be noted that constabularies and partnerships also rely heavily on mobile speed camera enforcement.

The RAC Foundation supports the use of speed cameras – as do some 70% of drivers – and is concerned what will happen as the existing camera stock, which are almost exclusively wet-film devices, become obsolete and have to be replaced by digital technology. Given that council budgets are being squeezed and a new digital camera will cost in the region of £20,000, clearly there will be some hard decisions for loca authorities to make.

The table below shows how the data on fixed speed camera provision breaks down by area:

Partnership(1) How many fixed speed cameras are currently (Jan 2012) operational? How many fixed camera housings do you have currently (Jan 2012) in place?(2) How many fixed camera sites do you have currently (Jan 2012) operational?(2)
Avon & Somerset 0 0 0
Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton 22 56 41
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 28 50 50
Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton and Warrington 10 42 42
Cleveland 0 3 3
Cumbria 12 12 12
Derby and Derbyshire 14 114 50
Devon & Cornwall 31 91 91
Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole 24 15 15
Durham and Darlington (have never used fixed cameras) Not applicable Not applicable Not applicable
Essex, Southend and Thurrock Did not reply/answer Did not reply/answer Did not reply/answer
Gloucestershire 4 25 22
Greater Manchester(3) Refused to answer Refused to answer Refused to answer
Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton & the Isle of Wight 10 42 35
Hertfordshire Did not reply/answer 128 73
Humberside 9 22 7
Kent & Medway Towns 19 78 78
Lancashire, Blackpool & Blackburn with Darwen(4) 31 282 282
Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland(5) 10 20 13
Lincolnshire 26 53 51
London Did not reply/answer 652 526
Merseyside Did not reply/answer 50 32
Norfolk Did not reply/answer Did not reply/answer Did not reply/answer
North Yorkshire and York (have never used fixed cameras) Not applicable Not applicable Not applicable
Northamptonshire 0 48 0
Northumbria 11 48 35
Nottingham & Nottinghamshire 23 43 20
South Yorkshire 18 65 45
Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Did not reply/answer Did not reply/answer Did not reply/answer
Suffolk 3 6 2
Surrey 10 31 31
Sussex Did not reply/answer Did not reply/answer 59
Thames Valley 26 291 245
Warwickshire 32 36 40
West Mercia 16 28 28
West Midlands 22 304 304
West Yorkshire 76 372 99
Wiltshire & Swindon 0 19 0
TOTAL 487 3026 2331

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