Road Safety News

Newspapers lock horns in speed camera row

Monday 5th October 2015

Two national newspapers, The Sun and the Guardian, have gone head-to-head in a row over guidelines relating to how speed cameras can be used.

Last week, using the slogan ‘Come clean on cameras’, The Sun called for guidelines on the use of speed cameras to be reinstated after claiming they have been “quietly scrapped by the government”.

The Sun says that under previous DfT guidelines cameras had to be yellow and clearly visible, but this requirement was phased out following a review in 2013.

A DfT spokesperson told The Sun it is now up to Highways England and local police to decide how  to deploy cameras. Edmund King, president of the AA, said “changing policy without telling drivers is unacceptable”.

Rob Gill, the Sun’s motoring editor, said: “This is the last straw – the Gatso Gestapo has gone too far.

“It was bad enough speeding motorists were being caught out by cameras hidden in horseboxes and tractors. Now we learn Government guidelines to prevent such sly tactics were canned.

“That’s why The Sun is today standing up for Britain’s drivers and calling for cameras to be clearly visible and not hidden by devious means such as behind trees, bushes, bends… or in tractors.

“Speed cameras were supposed to make our roads safer, to slow us down at an accident blackspot, to stop our children getting killed — not make money from us.”

In response, the Guardian says The Sun’s campaign against speed cameras is “encouraging dangerous behaviour that blights communities and kills”, and describes speeding drivers as “criminals”.

Peter Walker, the author of the Guardian’s article, said: “Let’s just imagine a national newspaper ran a front-page campaign demanding that young people were given a few hours’ warning before police carried out searches for knives, giving them time to hide the weapons. The outrage would be universal.

“And yet The Sun, has devoted its front page to the fate of another category of people whose offences are provably dangerous, asking why the police try to ‘snare’ them through ‘hidden means’. But this is a special category of criminals: speeding drivers.”

The Guardian report points to Government data that lists breaking the speed limit as a factor in almost 220 road deaths a year, stating that The Sun has presented deaths caused by speeding as ‘normalised’ and ‘just one of those things’.

Peter Walker adds: “There is, of course, an argument that visible speed cameras are a better deterrent than stealth. But with its talk of ‘Gatso Gestapo’ the Sun is going way beyond this. The problem is they are completely wrong and there are reams of research showing this.

“None of this is to say cars are not vital for many people. I’m not anti-car. But I am, completely and unapologetically, anti-speeding.

“It’s a selfish choice. When you speed, you put yourself in more danger, any loved ones in your car in more danger, and other people on the road in more danger. If you get caught it’s your own fault. Stop whining.”


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Newspapers will print whatever sells newspapers.

Does the community set a speed limit – or does the driver? If we left it to the driver, we leave open the possibility of certain individuals travelling too fast for conditions, and many might follow. If we left it to the community, we could end up with 10mph speed limits everywhere. Nonsense? Well here’s the scenario: you are driving along a road at 45, 50, or even 60 mph in a 60 limit, and there comes a side turning from which another vehicle is wanting to exit and join the road you are on. The community has determined the limit is 60, but the driver may consider that vehicle just might pull out as he reaches it within an impossible to stop distance, so he slows down – but to what speed? In slowing, he presents an opportunity to the driver of the exiting vehicle to pull out as he/she thinks you may be slowing to turn or allow them passage – some people do not indicate, and many mis-judge. So, in order for the community to meet ever-increasing desires for greater road safety, the limit is reduced – bit by bit, until we are all driving at 10mph everywhere.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

Safety margins are very interesting things, not least because we have a couple of different views at to who should be working out what they are. Rod appears to think a safety margin is what a community group decides it should be and Idris maintains that it is down to the individual's judgement as to what it should be.

Safety margins, no matter who decides how big they should be, will always be constrained by something called the probability/possibility trade-off. This is where the almost infinite number of things that could possibly go wrong is traded for a more easily handled number of things that could only probably go wrong. The very instant this trade-off is made then the margin will become insufficient because a gigantic number of possibilities is being completely ignored. Therefore in order to have a safety margin that will cater for all the possibilities rather than just the probabilities the margin would have to become absolutely enormous. With such a huge margin it would actually become impossible to perform the activity that the safety margin is being designed to protect.

This is the conundrum that all of us face in that in order to perform an activity we must be prepared to make this trade-off irrespective of who decides how much safety margin is allowed for. Rod's community safety margin will be wrong just as Idris' personal safety margin will be wrong and both will be wrong to exactly the same extent.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (6) | Disagree (6)

You may prefer to trust your own judgment and experience Idris, but I for one would prefer that you didn't, based on the numerous incidents and near misses on the road you've told us about.

Do you also choose the most appropriate direction around a roundabout or along a one-way street based on your judgment and experience or do you tend to do what the 'arrow on the pole' tells you?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (11) | Disagree (4)

I expect you do feel that way. But surely the judgement and experience of someone driving your car was shown to be rather lacking when found to be doing 47mph in a 30mph limit. Either the person concerned had not been aware of the street lighting determining the 30 limit, didn't care about being detected, or from all their previous experience felt that the "accident" of being snapped by a speed camera was unlikely.

Couple that with the "judgement" subsequently made to challenge all the courts in UK and Europe to avoid "helping police with their enquiries" and one can see how personal judgement and experience can be flawed and a very poor indicator what what is appropriate.

Whilst you may still trust your experience and judgement others will I am sure feel that a wider basis for how we conduct ourselves on the public spaces between buildings that we call streets is appropriate.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (9) | Disagree (5)

I would much prefer to be allowed to continue to trust my own judgement and experience about what is a safe speed, above or below the speed limit, than to be forced by law below a "number on a pole" that is appropriate as often as a stopped clock ie occasionally and not for long. Driving by numbers no more makes you safe than painting by numbers makes you an artist.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (8) | Disagree (25)

I agree Duncan when you say:
"Of course the safety margin we leave will not be sufficient for all situations, but it will be sufficient for the vast majority of them, .."

That's just the point isn't it. Do we want a safety margin that by personal inspection seems to be sufficient yet actually we know is insufficient for a minority of situations, or do we as a community make decisions about what we expect that safety and environmental margin should be and set a speed limit accordingly.

Do we decide the maximum speed we find acceptable as an individual and the community accept the consequences or do we decide the maximum speed as a community and the individual accept the consequences.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (15) | Disagree (4)

Well done to Derek for having a go at the question and for coming up with a nigh-on perfect answer to it. To summarise, we would manage road safety without the use of a speedometer by doing what everybody else does and leaving what we think is a sufficient margin for error.

Of course the safety margin we leave will not be sufficient for all situations, but it will be sufficient for the vast majority of them, but that's another question for another day.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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If there is something that disappoints me about the government's action in this it is the apparent avoidance of any debate or establishment of an overt strategy for speed cameras. What I find truly disgusting is the co-option of the word Gestapo in this context. The "journalist" in question presumably either doesn't know or doesn't care that the Gestapo was a hideous and murdering terror machine. Why let that stand in the way of a good soundbite when you are a "car-mad lad" (his words, not mine) and you disapprove of something. And let's remember that it is only a few weeks since his newspaper lambasted a pacifist republican for having the courage of his convictions. Where is their compassion for the surviving victims of the Gestapo or the communities over which their shadow still hangs?
Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton

Agree (24) | Disagree (3)

Duncan’s question would probably have as many different answers as people who supplied them. The only way to tell how fast one is travelling is by referring to an instrument. Having access to such an instrument we then are given numerical limits that are considered maximums under certain environments for considerations of safety. I often had problems with the speedometer drive mechanism on one of my former motorcycles, which resulted in me travelling several thousand miles over a period of years with no working speedo (technically illegal). At no time during those periods was I ever stopped for speeding. The reason is really down to having; a) kept pace with other traffic (which may itself have been speeding), and b) judging the road ahead and calculating (roughly) the distance ahead in which I could stop safely in an emergency. It has its faults, but so does driving to a number considered as the maximum, which is one reason why maximum limits are not necessarily ‘safe’ speeds to travel at, and which most motorised road users on this website are aware of. But what of the ‘others’?

The only way in which such a question could be answered is by setting someone off on a totally unprotected device, with no form of protective clothing, and no form of mechanical braking down a slope steep enough to get up to speeds in excess of say 15mph. The course would need to be littered with hard obstacles that needed to be dodged, and from which moving obstacles might suddenly emerge. One would soon see how individuals would consider their safe negotiation of the route by just how much shoe leather/rubber was being worn down. But there would also be those who would go hell for leather (is that the origins of said saying?) just for kicks. Probably why some are entertained by roller coaster rides. No thanks. Though tobogganing can be fun (no obstacles please).

How one would estimate their speed in numbers would be down to careful observance of the passing scenery when supplied with numerical information from a speedometer. Experience. Skill. Knowledge.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (3) | Disagree (3)

The question was designed to take people out of their existing methods of thinking and to explore new ways of looking at an old problem. Questions like this are often given to prospective students at the top universities to reveal whether they know how to think or if they only know what to think. Like I say, the question remains unanswered.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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"Yet the question "how would you manage road safety if the speedometer had never been invented?" remains unanswered."

I suppose the answer to that is that someone would invent the speedometer. Also wouldn't be a problem if the wheel hadn't been invented.
Iain. Scotland.

Agree (15) | Disagree (3)

I'll probably be accused of being pedantic Bob, but they're not cameras, they're just conventional speed guns! Can be used anywhere - no advanced notice required!
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Yet the question "how would you manage road safety if the speedometer had never been invented?" remains unanswered. We will never make any progress until we start thinking about what the answers to that question might be.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (5) | Disagree (24)

Quite right Hugh and those police operated cameras were in constant use up here in Lancashire. Unbeknown to quite a lot of motorcycle speeders.
Bob Craven Lancs....Space is Safer Campaign

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On a less frivolous note, The Sun's article moans about speed 'cameras' being hidden in horse boxes and tractors, which firstly, I think is quite inventive anyway and hats off to the Police for doing this. But as far as guidelines concerning their usage and conspicuity, they don't apply as these are not speed 'cameras' - they are speed guns or detectors, operated by the Police just as they always have been, which are not covered by the guidelines referred to, which are for the speed camera partnerships' deployment of actual detectors/cameras.
It's no different from the Police detecting speeders from unmarked cars or detecting any crimes covertly for that matter.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Bit of a shock to read about Bake Off Paul's OCD isn't it?
Hugh Jones

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Basically it comes down to drivers who want to speed without being noticed are complaining about boxes catching them speeding not being noticed.

How about any changes in speed limit being preceded by a large red, white and black sign with the speed limit painted on it. Why not make them about 600mm in diameter and at a noticeable height.

What's that, we already do! Duuugh!
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (38) | Disagree (7)