The case for speed cameras destroyed in a flash

By David Millward, Transport Correspondent
(Filed: 29/09/2006)

Your view: has the danger of speeding been overplayed?

A review of the Government's speed cameras policy was demanded yesterday after official statistics showed that only five per cent of crashes are caused by drivers breaking the speed limit.

Drivers who let their attention wander cause more than six times as many accidents.

Speed camera
Speed cameras: under attack

Campaigners seized on the figures and demanded: "In that case, why are there so many cameras?"

Paul Smith, of Safe Speed, which has led the campaign, said the Government's case for continuing to install cameras had been destroyed.

"Even those statistics are flawed, because they could include a joy-rider who is going at 100mph and no camera will ever stop him," he said. "They are spinning like tops to justify the camera programme."

Motoring groups called for a broader approach to road safety and a revaluation of the 95 million camera project.

Edmund King, the chief executive of the RAC Foundation, said: "The figures suggest that all drivers need to concentrate more on the road rather than on their phones, passengers, music, food, drinks, navigation systems and the clutter of signs."

Chris Grayling, the Tories' transport spokesman, called for greater use of police patrol cars, rather than cameras, to deal with the menace of "rogue drivers".

There are more than 5,400 camera sites in England and Wales, which raised 113 million in fines in 2004-5.

The Department of Transport insisted that, while driver error accounted for 66 per cent of accidents, motorists going too fast for the conditions, irrespective of the speed limit, accounted for 29 per cent of crashes.

The analysis rekindled the speed camera argument and raised questions over whether the Government would meet the road safety targets it had set itself. The figures showed that the number of people killed on the roads last year fell to 3,201, one per cent fewer than in the previous year. The 28,954 people seriously injured represented a seven per cent fall on 2004. The Government has said it wants the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads to be reduced to 40 per cent of the 1994-8 average by 2010.

Its figures, based on information sent to the Government by police forces, show that the tally has dropped by 33 per cent.

But analysis of hospital data sent to the Department of Health painted a very different picture, suggesting that the drop in the number of deaths had been minimal.

A study of the figures in the British Medical Journal said the gap between police and hospital data indicated that the Government was unlikely to meet its casualty reduction targets.

"It is hard to ascertain why there should be such a wide divergence in these figures," said one of the authors of the article, Mike Gill, professor of public health at Surrey University.

"There are two main contenders for the discrepancy in my view. First, there is an unintended effect of drink-drive legislation.

"While one cannot avoid police intervention when there is a fatality, when somebody is hurt it may be tempting to shuffle people off to casualty and keep schtum.

"Also, dedicated traffic patrols have been reduced and therefore there is less likely to be police intervention in all cases."

However, Prof Gill was reluctant to suggest that the study undercut the case for speed cameras.

"We don't know what the figures would have been otherwise," he said.

Andrew Howard, of the AA Motoring Trust, supported the Government's analysis and the speed camera programme. "Human beings make mistakes," he said. "So the only thing that can be done is to mitigate their impact and that means slowing the car down."