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Speed Cameras - a success story

    Much of the recent dramatic fall in the number of road casualties can probably be attributed to the widespread use of speed cameras.

    This website has always welcomed the use of cameras to combat speeding. Occasionally we have been criticised on this account, so on this page we review the latest evidence which we believe confirms that cameras are already helping to save life and limb on a substantial scale.

    When the present government came to power it set itself a target of reducing the toll of people killed or seriously injured (KSI) on our roads by 40% within 10 years (i.e. by 2008) when compared with a baseline of the average KSI for the years 1994 - 1998. The target for children was set at a reduction of 50%.

    Now that we are half way through the 10 year period we can see that these very ambitious targets could well be achieved. In 2003 the overall KSI was down by 22% when compared with the baseline and that for children down by a astonishing 40%. And all this despite a 9% increase in the volume of traffic.

    By any standards this represents a triumph. Whatever complaints one may have about government policy on other issues no one can dispute its success in reducing road casualties.

    A large part of this success is almost certainly due to the large scale use of cameras to enforce speed limits. As the cameras have proliferated the number of traffic casualties has tumbled.

    Although the fall in KSI began as early as 1995, it has continued each year and 2003 recorded the biggest single fall.

   This last statement does, however, need qualifying. Despite an overall KSI fall of 9%, the number of people killed in 2003 actually rose by 4%. This can largely be attributed to a substantial increase (14%) in motor cyclist deaths in 2003 compared with 2002. One cannot help but wonder whether many of the extra motor cyclist fatalities were in fact speed related, since some motor bikes can go at well over twice the maximum motorway speed limit. It has even been suggested that this sudden rise might in part be attributed to 2003's long fine summer encouraging some middle-aged born again bikers to try out powerful machines, which they no longer had the skill to manage. However, if you factor out motor cyclists the overall number of road deaths fell slightly in 2003, and the fall for pedal cyclists was 12% and that for children 4%.

   It is a matter of common observation that road traffic has considerably calmed down in the last year or two. Far more motorists (though by no means all) are keeping within, or at least close to, the prescribed speed limits, and tailgating is far less common than it was. This is surely the result of millions of speeding fines being imposed through the use of cameras.

   The connection between this manifest calming consequent on the use of cameras and the continued decline in road casualties is well-nigh unarguable.

    Recent government statistics demonstrating the efficacy of cameras were confined to the limited number of sites where cameras had been in situ for at least 18 months and they showed that at these sites 80 lives had been saved. We contend that the beneficial effect of the cameras is much more widespread than this. Many drivers on all types of roads everywhere have become more cautious in breaking speed limits and so jeopardizing their licences. 

   Here are a few figures to chew on.

   In 2003 there were 37,196 fewer casualties of all kinds and 9,368 fewer killed and seriously injured than in 1997.

   In 2003 there were 12,366 fewer child casualties than the 1994-98 baseline average and the number of children killed or seriously injured was at a record low.

   In the single year from 2002 to 2003 there was a reduction of 12,000 casualties of all kinds and 2,192 fewer were killed and seriously injured. 

    Traffic casualties have been reducing each year for the last ten years, but 2003 saw the biggest year on year reduction. 1998 showed the biggest previous reduction of KSI (5% as opposed to a 5.6% reduction in 2003). But in 1998 the reduction of all casualties was only 0.8% compared with a reduction of 4% in 2003, i.e five times the 1998 reduction. Traffic volume was 8.6% greater in 2003 than in 1998. 2003 was the first full year in which the use of speed cameras had become widespread and it is reasonable to assume that they played an important role in the difficult task of maintaining and increasing the momentum of reduction on reduction of casualties year after year despite the increase in traffic volume.

    The benefit of speed cameras is not just limited to the reduction in the number of deaths and  injuries and of the consequent grief and heartache. The calming of traffic referred to above means that the quality of many people's lives is improving. Regardless of whether or not there are any actual accidents in the vicinity, people feel safer and more comfortable when traffic is not racing past their homes and through their neighbourhood. Their environment becomes not only safer but quieter and pleasanter.

   The figures given above are derived from the statistics collated by the Office for National Statistics and are based on accidents reported to the police. Click here to visit the Department for Transports pdf file quoting the detailed annual figures.

    Opponents of speed cameras continue endlessly to parrot the mantra that the cameras' only function is to generate revenue. Unfortunately if a manifest falsehood is repeated often enough there will always be some people foolish enough to believe it.

    Speed cameras are a vital component in the battle to reduce the terrible toll of traffic accidents and it is vital that the government keeps its nerve in the face of a hostile media blitz against them sponsored by selfish interests that are either indifferent to, or in denial of, evidence of the benefits the cameras bring.