Speed cameras fail to halt rise in road deaths
By ANDREW BAXTER - More by this author Last updated at 21:25pm on 10th February 2007

The number of people killed in road accidents has increased despite the proliferation of speed cameras, according to new Government figures.

A total of 3,210 people died in crashes in the 12 months to September last year, compared with 3,177 in the same period a year earlier.

The Department for Transport statistics come three months after the influential Commons Transport Select Committee said an obsession with cameras was responsible for a 'deplorable' drop in the number of officers patrolling Britain's roads.

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Safety campaigners say the increase in fatalities is a wake-up call in the battle to cut casualties and warn that reductions in traffic police have made travelling by car more dangerous.

"Any figures that show an increase against a downward trend ought to be ringing alarm bells in Whitehall, in local authorities and in police headquarters," said Kevin Delaney, former chief of the Metropolitan Police traffic division and now head of road safety at the IAM Motoring Trust.

"The deterrent effect on motorists of a police officer enforcing traffic regulations is incalculable but we are seeing less and less of them.

"Any increase in fatalities has to be worrying and we, the public, ought to be concerned. Even if it is a statistical blip, more than 30 extra people were killed. It reinforces that you cannot be complacent about road safety."

The figures are contained in the DfT's latest quarterly bulletin. Casualties overall fell by four per cent between October 2005 and September 2006 compared with the same period a year earlier.

There was a one per cent drop in those killed or seriously injured. But when the latter group was stripped from the statistics, the number killed rose by 33 - equivalent to a one per cent increase.

Much of the rise was concentrated in the summer months between July and September, when 840 people died on the roads, compared with 818 in the corresponding period in 2005 - up three per cent.

During that time, the number of fatal accidents rose by five per cent, from 745 to 780 crashes.

Road deaths have fallen consistently in recent years, from 4,568 in 1991 to 3,201 in 2005. The exceptions were 2001, when they rose by 41 to 3,450, and 2003, when there was an increase of 77 to 3,508 - largely due to an increase in motorcycle deaths.

The number of speed cameras run by Britain's 38 road safety partnerships has soared to around 6,000 since they were introduced seven years ago.

In 2004 - the latest year for which Home Office figures are available - 2.1million motorists were booked for speeding. Drivers forked out 114.5million in fines last year, with a 60 ticket issued every 15 seconds.

Exact figures for the number of traffic police are not collated nationally and officers are increasingly deployed to other duties when forces are short of manpower.

But the RAC says there was an 11 per cent reduction in traffic officers between 1996 and 2004 and other estimates suggest cuts of up to a fifth in some forces between 1999 and 2004.

The RAC has repeatedly called for more patrols to combat the growing underclass of two million drivers who evade camera fines by driving unregistered and uninsured vehicles.

Campaigner Paul Smith, founder of Safe Speed, said only one in 20 accidents was caused by speeding, and blamed an over-reliance on cameras for the failure to cut fatalities.

"Road deaths should not be rising,' he said, pointing to safer vehicles, the targeting of accident blackspots and better post-crash medical care.

"We have the wrong road safety policy and it's making our drivers worse. Speed cameras and "speed kills" policy is badly affecting driver skills and driver attitudes.

"Drivers are so concerned about getting a speeding ticket that they are less likely to concentrate on the road ahead."

A DfT spokesman said the figures were provisional and warned against premature judgment.

"No single quarter's figures should be taken in isolation, especially if they appear to show a change in trend, as there are random fluctuations," he said.