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Do Speed Cameras Save lives?

June 1, 2011

The BBC has a story about the RAC and The AA both claiming that speed cameras save lives (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11826295). The headline quote is cutting the budget for speed cameras will mean an extra 800 lives a year will be lost due to the resulting increase in traffic accidents.

The issue of speed cameras and their effectiveness on reducing traffic accidents is a polarizing subject, with many emotional comments on both sides of the argument.

A brief web search on the effectiveness of speed cameras on road safety reveals this link: http://www.bmj.com/content/330/7487/331.full. Best jump straight to the conclusion.

Conclusion

Published research consistently shows the effectiveness of speed cameras in preventing road traffic collisions and injuries. However, the level of evidence is relatively poor, and better data need to be collected to improve the evidence base.

This is a concern. Published research sticks by the line that they improve safety, yet the evidence is not good enough to prove it. How can we accept this? If the claim is to be made, the evidence has to back it up, if the evidence is questionable then the claim can not be made.

There is no doubt that speed cameras force people to consider speed, the trouble is it makes people reactionary rather than pro-actionary. Speed cameras focus on a single aspect of motoring, speed. They are incapable of catching other driving offences, such as drink or drugs driving, stolen cars, unsafe cars, badly driven cars, distracted drivers. All of these contribute towards motoring accidents, where is the focus on these offences?

Easy targets

The main problem with speed cameras is public perception. We are told they exist to cut accidents, yet they appear where speed is easiest to achieve, not where accidents are hardest to avoid. Accidents happen for a variety of reasons, yet there is a disproportionate focus on speed.

The reason for this is deceptively simple. Speed is very easy to measure, invoke an arbitrary limit and you can easily measure someone going over that limit, bingo an allegedly unsafe driver is caught and prevented from causing an horrific accident. Minority Report anyone?

Speed and inappropriate speed are two very different beasts, inappropriate speed in adverse conditions can be much lower than the trigger for a speed camera. This is the measure of a good driver, knowing what is safe.

The public mistrust of speed cameras is well founded when the revenues they generate is seen and the effect they have on inexperienced and nervous drivers is unhelpful. There are many anecdotal stories of people who drive everywhere at 30 or 40 mph, regardless of the actual limit, because they fear the speeding fine letter. These are people who watch their speedometer more than they watch the road; these are people who panic brake at the sight of the yellow box of fear and cause others to have to react to them. Is this a road safety improvement? I don’t think so.

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From → comment, Motoring

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