Road Safety News

Digital revolution for safety cameras

Thursday 13th September 2012

Digital safety cameras, funded by motorists attending speed awareness courses, are replacing ageing film cameras, according to The Daily Telegraph.

More than half of safety camera partnerships are now installing new digital cameras, with the number set to increase by nearly 50% in the next 12 months.

Of the 33 partnerships who responded to inquiries from The Daily Telegraph, 21 confirmed that they were embarking on a comprehensive renewal programme over the next two to five years, while another six are still considering their next move. Four partnerships – Cheshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, Northants and Nottinghamshire – said they expected the number of prosecutions to increase.

Unlike the older machines, the new digital cameras never run out of film and can take pictures indefinitely. According to The Daily Telegraph, their running costs are also lower, as police officers are not needed to collect and develop the film.

Instead, the information from the camera is sent automatically to a control centre. Once the car has been identified from its number plate a notice of intended prosecution is sent out.

The Telegraph says that the safety camera programme appears to have been rescued by the spread of speed awareness courses, with 1.8 million motorists attending a course since January 2010. While speeding fines go to the Treasury, fees for speed awareness courses are retained by police forces and safety partnerships.

DCC Suzette Davenport, chair of ACPO's National Roads Policing Operations Forum, said: “Using technology to make the roads safer for all drivers is an excellent example of police moving with the times.”

The new cameras have not been warmly received in some quarters.

Keith Peat, spokesman for the Association of British Drivers (ABD), said: “This is entirely predictable. The fact of the matter is the road safety industry, which includes the manufacturers of the devices and the partnerships, have a vested interest.

“These cameras can’t see how an accident happened, they can’t see whether you were drunk or if you were careless.

“This Government is continuing the war on the motorist and it is counterproductive.”

Stephen Hammond, the newly appointed transport minister, said: “It is for local authorities and police to decide whether or not to use speed cameras and how they wish to operate them.

“However, we do not believe that cameras should be used as the default solution in reducing accidents, nor as a way of raising revenue.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.


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Eric: You still have to keep it in perspective. I too have spent many hours at or near enforcement sites and will have seen a few vehicles where the nose dipped sharply as it approached - but without any consequences - in the meantime hundreds upon hundreds of vehicles will have filed past in an orderly, disciplined fashion without incident, as we would like it to be all the time - and very gratifying to see it is too.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (2) | Disagree (0)

Well actually Dave, it was Eric I asked what were the hazards he perceived and it was you who responded to say you had published actual 'evidence of the real negative effects' - as a courtesy however I will read further.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Ms S Down, I may have read Safespeed's negative side effects of speed cameras some time ago and been influenced by it, just as I have read, and may have been influenced by, the many speed camera partnership websites and reports, but are they the same? If so, then maybe that's because those are the main adverse effects?

Every engineer knows, or should know, that every safety device or policy will have positive benefits and negative side effects (inc seat belts, drink drive laws etc) and that's why tests are done to find out which are larger. There definitely are negative side effects of speed cameras, that's surely not controversial?

Hugh, you are right that it's “not actual evidence though, is it? It's just possibilities”, but that's what you asked for and I only provided what you requested.

If you now request evidence, my latest research is here:
Dave Finney - Slough

Agree (3) | Disagree (4)

Hugh and Slow Down,

Hazard analysis, which is a central element of my day job, is about asking what if? What could go wrong? What can we do to prevent or mitigate it? It is what makes safe every piece of technology that you encounter.

Paul Smith was very good at hazard assessment, as is Dave Finney. The analysis on Dave's website is not just the product of imagination, it is backed up by observed behaviour by anyone who has ever seen or performed hazardous driving near cameras. It is fundamental to making our world a safe place to be and there is no excuse for making an exception for speed enforcement methods.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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Dave: It's not actual evidence though, is it? It's just possibilities - what "may" and "could" happen in theoretical scenarios limited only by one’s imagination - and events which presumably could just as easily be triggered by a marked police car parked up, or someone at the roadside wearing hi-vis and black trousers. If you are genuinely concerned that these events could happen, you would surely have to acknowledge that they could not happen if the enforcement is covert and you (and Eric) would no longer have anything to worry about. After all, the Traffic Police use unmarked vehicles to detect speeders and I’ve not heard anyone moan about it. I remember reading that the Police had used a horse-box in a lay-by as a cover for speed enforcement – ingenious!
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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We’ve read Dave Finney’s report on speed cameras and whilst fair in some areas, he does appear to have struggled when trying to come up with any adverse effects himself, as the ones he’s listed were published on Safespeed’s website a few years ago and they are no more convincing now than they were then.
Slow Down for Safety

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Hugh, you ask “What exactly are these 'hazards' ...” (with speed cameras)?

I wrote a page where I tried, in as objective a way as I could, to quantify the possible positive benefits and negative side effects:

If you have any evidence that disputes anything on that page, please email me and I'll review it.

Evidence that there are real negative side effects can be found here:

Again, if you have any evidence that disputes anything on that page, please email me and I'll review it.
Dave Finney - Slough

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As I understand it if the police suspect someone of a crime - the driver of a vehicle or someone reported for assault etc - they have to ensure they arrest or charge the right person to ensure they don't arrest the wrong person. This is why you're asked your name before being arrested (so I'm told!) hence the need to identify the driver of a vehicle and not just prosecute the owner, unless the owner then refuses to identify the driver. Part of the way the police try to avoid prosecuting innocent people.
Dave, Leeds

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Slow Down for Safety gives no indication in his acknowedgement of my right to silence posting whether he agrees or not with the damning dissenting judgement of the Moldovian and Dutch judges. They emphasise basic principles of justice that became ours 800 years ago, that are not being surgically removed for the convenience of the authorities - does no one else care?
Idris Francis Petersfield

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What exactly are these 'hazards' you perceive? Put it into perspective, millions and millions of vehicles have passed by automatic speed enforcement set-ups without incident. If you're really concerned about this, campaign for covert enforcement which should allay your concerns.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

The difference between enforcing speed limits and enforcing other laws (such as drink drive and bald tyres) is that the means of enforcement (fixed, mobile and average speed cameras) introduce hazards that affect every road user. Deaths have been attributed to speed enforcement activities, including some who were not speeding. And there is still no agreed evidence that cameras make a net positive contribution to road safety. Again, you are more concerned with enforcement than the road safety.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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Eric: I don’t disagree with you that an illegal speed is necessarily an unsafe speed as we know it’s possible to drive over the speed limit without consequence – the same could be said though for other illegal acts e.g being over the drink-drive limit, or having a bald tyre, but that’s not the point. It’s the law and when we apply for our driving licenses we effectively sign up to these laws and the more we can get people to comply and do things ‘by the book’ the better. It’s about being a disciplined and conscientious motorist.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Thanks Idris ..that's cleared things up nicely.
I think even Jeremy Paxman would be struggling with you.
Slow Down for Safety

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Rather than write my own summary of the importance of the right to silence, I refer anyone interested to the Judgement of the Grand Chamber of the ECHR in July 2007 at{%22itemid%22:[%22001-81359%22]}. The last 1/3 of the page provides the dissenting judgements of the two judges, explaining in great detail why tbey believe that both defendents were right, and that S172 1988 RTA does breach our rights.

In much simpler terms, this is effectively what happens under this system, clearly designed to facilitate huge numbers of penalties that would jam up every court in the country if proper procedures as required by Magna Carta were allowed:

"We suspect you have committed a criminal offence, but because we cannot prove it we insist that you confess. And by the way, if you don't confess, the penalties for not confessing are far higher than for the offence itself".

Call that justice? Is that the sort of legal system you want to live under? Only for motorists now - but who next?
Idris Francis Petersfield

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What on earth are you going on about Idris? This is a road safety site not a political history lesson We've checked, and the Magna Carta definitely does not mention speed limits. In the interests of road safety, please could you explain why you drove at 47mph in a 30 zone as understanding the psyche of the motorist is a fundamental issue in this subject.
Slow Down for Safety

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In reply to "slow down for safety" and the 9 who disliked my reply about my ECHR case:

I am not in the least surprised in this company that few understand the significance and importance of the right to silence - though Liberty and many lawyers certainly did.

Nor am I "embarrased" at having fought the case, I am proud of having done my best to fight for a fundamantal principle of justice. It's all part and parcel of "innocent until proven guilty", Jury Trial and other aspects of Magna Carta. As I do not have space here I will explain it on my web site shortly.

Nor am I surprised, in this company, to see an another assumption for which there is no evidence - the whole basis of my case was that I refused to confirm who was driving.
Idris Francis Peteresfield

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Sorry Idris. Not in the business of embarrassing people for the sake of it and credit to you for not trying to wriggle out of it or deny it, however what we actually asked and would still like to know is what exactly was in your mind when you committed the offence (just to remind everyone: 47 in a 30)?

This is surely at the heart of the other on-going debate here about when is an illegal speed 'unsafe' or 'safe' etc.
Slow Down for Safety

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I think it's time we all stopped arguing about this and read Helen Wells:

(I think I've said that somewhere before, today.)
Andrew Fraser, STIRLING

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To Hugh, who as Eric points out, has failed to answer my question.

It is not at all clear what "hands on experience".. "at the front line" actually means in terms of experience or ability.

For my part I won a State Scholarship in Pure and Applied Mathematics in 1957, a 1st Class Honours degree in electrical engineering in 1960, was a graduate researcher at Cambridge University from 1960-62, a computer circuit design engineer and then ran my own electronics company for thirty years, involved in the remote control of moving objects on land, sea and air many with significant safety implications.

Throughout those years I worked constantly with numbers, analysis, design, cost-effectiveness and accountancy, in the last 30 years knowing that if I made a serious mistake and failed to correct it my company would go bust - and that users of my equipment could be killed or injured.
Idris Francis Petersfield

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To "Slow Down for safety" (not a good idea at 70mph on a busy motorway).

Advised by a barrister and with the assistance of Liberty (who saved me most of my £20,000 budget) I refused to identify the driver of my car after it had been photographed speeding, to invite prosecution not for speeding but for failing to identify the driver (S172 1988 RTA). I did so knowing I would be convicted here, to take my case to the ECHR as a fundamental breach of the centuries-old principle of the "right to silence" (in America, the Fifth Amendment).

Space does not allow explanation of why the right to silence (still available to every manner of criminal from terrorist to murderer to fraudsters, anyone except drivers who have committed "modest" offences) is so important, but I would be happy to do so via my web site.

Although the ECHR transferred the case to the Grand Chamber because of its importance, I lost - as lawyers who agreed with me warned I would, because the Government could not afford to see me win.
Idris Francis Petersfield

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The DfT decided to give control of speed cameras to local authorities from April 2007 because they realised that funding Partnerships from fines meant that Partnerships wanted only cameras, not "perhaps more cost effective solutions" (Transcom Report 2006). Stephen Ladyman wrote to Transcom admitting that vehicle activated signs are 9 times more cost effective (not 10% less) than cameras as they had previously claimed - though even that 9/1 was based on flawed analysis and first year costs only (over 10 year life it's 50 to 1). All documented at and

Later when economic crisis hit, those local authorities assessed value for money and finding little in cameras stopped funding them. Acpo then stepped in with the current scheme by which, for the first time in 200 years, they have a direct financial motive for imposing penalties. This is outrageous.
Idris Francis Petersfield

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Hugh: you posted a comment but did not answer Idris's question: what experience and expertise do you bring to this debate?
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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In answer to Idris's query on my expertise, as you might have gathered from other posts of mine, I have worked 'at the front line' as it were, which is really the only way to understand driver behaviour and more importantly, actually be able to do something about it. Stats and hypothesies have their place but you can't beat hands-on experience. When you have analysed speeds as much as I have, you do tend to build-up a fairly good picture of traffic flows and driver behaviour. As I've said elsewhere, comment from outsiders is interesting and can be useful but is often speculative and misinformed.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Impressive credentials Idris! You've certainly put a lot of effort in to your research. Incidentally, are you the same Idris Francis who, it was reported, was prosecuted for driving at 47mph in a '30' zone many years ago? Profuse apologies if it wasn't you naturally, but if it was, what was, or is, your explanation and did it form part of your research?
Slow Down for Safety, England

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To Hugh Jones - what experience and expertise do you bring to this debate? I have spent many thousands of hours on these subjects for 12 years (having worked with numbers, analysis and control of moving objects all my working life, in addition to 1m+ miles driven without hurting anyone).

Somewhere I read a report - perhaps by Transcom - confirming that the great majority of camera fines are imposed on older, safer drivers for modest breaches of limits, not on younger, riskier drivers at higher speeds. Not that the report itself appeared to notice the significance of those figures, which are as one might expect given that mature drivers on average drive more miles, often further from home, while younger drivers tend to drive less, near home where they know camera locations - and (especially if they speed) take care to avoid them.

Blunderdass policing hitting the wrong targets I am afraid.
Idris Francis

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It is apparent that Hugh is more interested in law enforcement than road safety. As has been argued on these pages many times, one does not imply the other, and bad enforcement (particularly the use of cameras) can be harmful and even lethal. And prosecuting safe drivers does nothing to improve road safety. It would appear that Phil is in the same camp as Hugh.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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Hugh, Eric made an assertion and you, quite correctly, asked how that assertion could be tested. All I did was take your good idea and formulate it into a research project. Unfortunately, even before the project can start, you seem to suggest that you don't want to know the answer as you want this particular law to be upheld, regardless.

As an engineer, my interest is in the actual effect of interventions, not to support them irrespective of their effect.
Dave Finney - Slough

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Quite simply really - break the law, get fined. Too many people think they are good safe drivers and speed limits do not apply to them.
Phil Hurst TFL London

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Dave and Eric: It's not really up to me to "offer anything new", or do any research as I don’t have any problem with speed limit enforcement myself, so don’t really need to prove anything for my own benefit. However one of the reasons I join these debates is to counter misinformation and correct the misconceptions of other contributors.

There's nothing wrong with amateur enthusiasts joining in these debates, but Eric in particular gives the impression to any newcomers to this site that he is an authoritative source, which he is not - and any wrong assertions need to be highlighted.

Dave: I see where you’re coming from but exceeding the speed limit is an offence per se – it’s black or white, so the prevailing circumstances won’t negate the offence. An uninsured, unlicensed driver might be driving impeccably safely but I hope you would still support prosecution?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Good idea Dave. A related recent story from the US...

"A quirk in Illinois traffic laws has complicated Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to pepper Chicago with speed cameras and slowed down bidding on a multimillion-dollar system scheduled to begin issuing $100 tickets by early next year.

The problem: a 38-year-old opinion by the Illinois attorney general that says children must be "visibly present" before school zone [20mph] speed limits can be enforced.

What that means is those robotic safety-zone cameras must not only capture high-definition images of speeding cars and their license plates, they also must seek out and photograph a child as much as a football field's distance away — preferably in the same shot."

My comment - this is a technical challenge, needs additional effort to decide who gets a ticket and will significantly reduce the level of prosecutions. Probably wrecks the business case if you are prosecuted only if there is visible danger.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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Hugh that is an excellent research idea.

Take a large sample of pictures and videos taken of speeding vehicles where the motorists were fined or sent on SAS. The speed of the offender tells us his/her stopping distance and time taken to stop therefore, if there is another road user who could reasonably have entered that stopping distance within the time taken to stop, that is a tick in the "unsafe" box. If not, that is a tick in the "safe" box.

Calculate the %.

Hugh, do you work for a speed camera operator and could therefore do this research?
Dave Finney - Slough

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We have "debated" on other threads but you rarely, if ever, offer anything new. Camera prosecution thresholds are always below the 85%ile speed, thus the thousands prosecuted at speeds close to that threshold (and hence offered speed awareness courses) are driving at what have always been considered not unsafe speeds (in normal free-ruinning clear conditions). Camera Partnerships will use the occasional mad speeder as an example, but the millions being made through speed awareness courses tells us that most prosecutions are those safe drivers. Perhaps a Partnership can tell us what that proportion is?
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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Eric: By referring to "mostly safe drivers" being fined, I see you are therefore acknowledging that unsafe drivers are also, quite rightly, getting fined, but could the Independent Road Safety Research gives us the actual percentage split please and how it knows this?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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This really is a racket, with money being spent on improving efficiency of fining mostly safe drivers, to raise more money, while achieving NOTHING in the cause of road safety.
I note that Stephen Hammond calls them "speed cameras", recognising that "safety camera" is a misnomer.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

Agree (6) | Disagree (17)