More speed cameras could be springing up to catch drivers on Norfolk's roads because the goalposts are being moved over where they can be used.
Anti-speed camera campaigners voiced fears that changes to the criteria in which cameras can be used will allow even more money to be raised through fining drivers.
However, bosses at the Norfolk Safety Camera Partnership denied the move will mean more speed cameras appearing on the county's roads and will be a huge help in tackling problems on more rural roads.
The Department for Transport (DfT) is transforming the way speed camera systems are funded, so from April Norfolk County Council will be given the money for the system and will then pass it on to the safety camera partnership.
At the same time the DfT is giving local authorities greater flexibility over how cameras are used and, crucially, where they can be put.
Currently, cameras, whether they are fixed or hand-held, can only be used in areas where a certain number of crashes causing serious injuries have happened over a fixed period of time.
But from April the new criteria will take account of all injury accidents as well as the level of people killed or seriously injured and look back five years rather than three.
They will also allow camera enforcement on routes where there is a serious problem of speeding and casualties, without the problem necessarily being concentrated at one particular location.
Critics said the move would merely lead to an extension of the “speed camera empire” and the decision on where the cameras would be placed was too subjective.
Paul Smith, spokesman for the Safe Speed campaign, said: “This is a policy which has been proved not to save lives. Speed cameras catch middle-aged drivers and yet it is the young drivers who drive dangerously. If more speed cameras are put in Norfolk it will be a terrible idea and it will be worse for road safety.”
He said the money spent on new cameras should be spent on more police patrols and driver education and that speed cameras should be abandoned altogether.
A spokesman for the Association of British Drivers said: “Our view is that this leeway to have cameras in more roads should be taken out. It is open to too much interpretation and is based on the plan of trying to expand the camera empire. It will mean more cameras and the reasons for placing them sound too subjective.”
Alan Dale, of Norwich's Sensible Speed Initiative, said: “They are looking at fresh ways to punish motorists. I would be more impressed if they were putting more police patrols on the roads, such as motorcyclists, who could deal with people who drive dangerously.”
In a report that will go before the county council's planning, transportation and the environment, waste and economic development review panel tomorrow, Stuart Hallett, the council's road safety officer, said: “Increased local flexibility in the operation of safety cameras creates opportunities to integrate them more fully into the wide range of measures that are adopted to reduce road traffic casualties.
“Furthermore, this flexibility will allow some scope to target speed detection equipment at sites with above average speed casualty rates that presently do not meet DfT criteria.”
The county council will get extra cash from the Government and Mr Hallett said that could pave the way for money to spent on other road safety measures.
Bryan Edwards, spokesman for the Norfolk Safety Camera Partnership, which catches between 500 and 700 motorists breaking the speed limit every week, stressed the changes did not mean there were plans to put up dozens more cameras in the county.
He said: “There might be more sites where we will be able to operate with a mobile camera unit to meet the community concerns, but there is certainly not a policy to put in lots more fixed cameras.
“We will still be looking to ensure that there is speeding before we decide to use cameras.”
The use of speed cameras as a method to cut crashes has long sparked debate. The safety camera partnership, which has costs of £1.4 million for 2006/7, says the 19 fixed cameras on the county's roads have cut accidents.
But opponents say cameras are a money-spinning exercise for the police, with the units placed on roads where cameras catch the most people. That is an allegation speed camera bosses deny, arguing the cash used to run the system.
Critics also point to a survey which suggested flashing speed limit signs were more effective at slowing down drivers than cameras. Auto Express said checks showed 25pc of drivers speeding at speed camera sites, but only 16pc at flashing speed limit signs. A Transport Research Laboratory study in 2002 found that vehicle-activated signs cut crashes involving fatal or serious injuries by 60pc at 19 sites in Norfolk.
Do you think speed cameras should be used on more of the county's roads? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE, e-mail eveningnewsletters@ archant.co.uk or have your say at www.eveningnews24.co.uk/forums
Copyright © 2007 Archant Regional. All rights reserved.
Terms and conditions