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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Head to Head: Speed cameras
Traffic officer with mobile radar gun
Traffic police do more than just catch speeding drivers
A controversial pilot scheme to allow police forces to keep the revenue generated by speed camera tickets is being extended.

The money raised can be used to maintain existing cameras and pay for new ones.

Both the government and police maintain the scheme is designed to improve road safety, not penalise motorists.

But should police be relying so heavily on speed cameras to fulfil the role of traffic officers?

Edmund King, of the RAC Foundation, the research arm of the motorists' organisation:

"When did you last see a traffic cop? When did you last see a speed camera? Is it just me, or are cameras taking over from humans?

A fall in the number of traffic police is probably enabling hard-core criminals to escape detection.

Home Office research shows that many motorists who commit serious traffic offences, such as dangerous and drink driving, are likely to be involved in other major criminal activities.

The research showed:

  • 79% of motorists convicted of driving whilst disqualified had a previous criminal conviction for a serious non-motoring offence

  • 52% of dangerous drivers had a previous serious conviction

  • 40% of drink drivers had been convicted of a criminal activity

  • A large number of motorists involved in serious traffic offences and half of all car thieves start their criminal career before age 16

These are the criminals who should be the number one target.

Vehicles are vital to criminals, but crooks in cars are now going virtually unchecked

Edmund King
RAC Foundation
Of course there is an important role for speed cameras targeted at accident blackspots and dangerous junctions.

These cameras should be visible and well signposted. The police forces who have vigorously targeted the most dangerous roads with cameras will record the biggest drops in casualties and will be fully supported by motorists.

Traditional traffic policing is in serious decline throughout the UK, which could be related to the increased reliance on cameras.

Traffic officers have a dual role in the detection of both traffic and mainstream criminal offences.

If we spent more time on routine policing of the roads we could clear up lots of other serious crimes.

Cars are frequently used as getaway vehicles or for moving stolen goods. Vehicles are vital to criminals, but crooks in cars are now going virtually unchecked.

It is essential that the government reintroduces traffic policing as a central function not only for detecting crime but also road safety purposes.

The speed camera cannot pick up the tailgaters, dangerous drivers or drink drivers who frequently kill on our roads."

Mary Williams, OBE, of the campaign group Brake:

"All drivers should focus on the fact that the self-funding speed camera pilot has achieved casualty reductions of, on average, 50%.

That means that more than 100 lives - including child pedestrians and drivers - have been saved in a year across just eight police force areas.

Speed cameras are an effective, technological solution to an endemic problem. 70% of us speed in 30mph zones; police officers in cars would never be able to catch us all and fine us.

But when we see a camera, we slow down. That reduces the chance of us hitting someone, and reduces the chance of an impact being fatal.

We should accept speed cameras as a life-saving measure

Mary Williams OBE
At just 35 mph, the chance of killing someone you hit is twice that of killing someone at 30 mph. Put simply, the faster we go, the less time we have to react and the harder we hit.

The government announcement is good news, along with its commitment to expand the scheme nationwide within the next two years.

If the same casualty reductions are achieved in all police force areas, total road deaths could drop by 600 - the equivalent of two jumbo jet loads of people falling out of the sky.

A Direct Line MORI poll released last week showed that 70 per cent of drivers accepted speed cameras save lives, and 50 per cent want more.

But there needs to be a concerted education campaign for those drivers who still believe that cameras are a "stealth tax on innocent motorists".

Speed cameras are:

  • Life saving

  • An effective crime prevention measure

  • Freeing up officers' time to concentrate on essential tasks such as catching drunk drivers

  • Legitimately positioned, not sneaky - if you think a camera is not positioned to save lives, ring your council. It may be an accident blackspot

  • Desperately needed to stop endemic speeding, particularly in towns and villages

If we accept CCTV in our towns as a security measure, we should accept speed cameras as a life-saving measure."

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