Speed camera opponents hail success of Swindon switch-off - but do figures back that up?

Accident statistics published as other councils prepare to follow suit in removing cameras

by Simon_MacMichael   August 9, 2010  

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Anti-speed camera campaigners have seized upon statistics from Swindon Borough Council that show a slight reduction in accident numbers in the nine months since the devices were removed in the Wiltshire town as evidence that they have minimal effect on road safety, and are simply a means of generating money for local councils and HM Treasury – or, “a tax on motorists,” as they are often termed.

The data will no doubt be studied closely by local authorities elsewhere in the country, with several having already announced that they are discontinuing speed cameras or are considering doing so, in part motivated by the Coalition Government’s announcement shortly after May’s general election that it was withdrawing funding for new cameras and slashing the Road Safety Grant by 40% from £95 million to £57 million.

Earlier this month, Oxfordshire became the first county to turn off speed cameras, and Wiltshire is due to follow suit in October. Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire is cutting one in five of its speed cameras, Lancashire has stated that it, too, expects to reduce the number it operates, and Essex and Dorset are reviewing funding which may lead to a reduction in cameras in operation in those two counties.

Leaving aside the point, often conveniently ignored by protesters, that if all motorists complied with the law and drove within the speed limit in the first place there would be no need for speed cameras, it’s questionable whether the data do in fact show a significant reduction in the number of accidents.

According to The Daily Telegraph, in the first nine months after the cameras were switched off in Swindon on July 31 last year, there were 315 road traffic casualties in the area as a whole, down from 327 in the comparable period the previous year, a reduction of around 4%. There were two fatalities compared to four, while the number of people seriously injured fell from 48 to 44.

However, at the actual locations of the four speed cameras, there has been minimal change in casualty figures, with two people seriously injured and 12 slightly injured in the nine months following the switch-off, compared to one fatality, one serious injury and 12 less severe injuries in the comparable period in 2008/09. That suggests that, while Swindon Borough Council has said that money saved on speed cameras will go on what it says are more effective road safety measures, those aren’t providing a tangible benefit as yet.

Local councilor Peter Greenhalgh, hailed “a new motoring hero” by Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson in 2008 for his efforts to abolish speed cameras, said: "I think our decision has been vindicated because here in Swindon we have seen a slight fall in the number of accidents. We have been able to invest the money we were spending on cameras in other physical road safety measures such as vehicle-activated warning signs.”

He continued: "I'm not going to claim that everywhere should turn off their cameras but there are a lot of cameras around the country that aren't delivering the results in road safety that everyone would want."

Peter Harry from the motorists' organisation PePiPoo – motto, “Helping the motorist get justice,” although a perusal of its website suggests that “evade justice” might be a more appropriate description, said: "This proves what we've been saying all along, and adds more and more weight to our argument that speed cameras have just become a way to raise money from motorists."

However, Katie Shephard of the road safety campaign Brake, which is against the removal of speed cameras, disagreed, saying “There is a wealth of academic research that demonstrates that speed cameras are an effective way to reduce crashes and nine months is still too short a period to assess the situation in Swindon."

However, the senior policeman in charge of the roads portfolio for the Association of Chief Police Officers has warned that cuts in government funding for speed cameras will lead to lives being put at risk.

Mick Giannasi, who is Chief Constable of Gwent Police, is reported by The Times to have written to Road Safety Minister Mike Penning to express ACPO’s concerns over the “unintended consequences for road safety" caused by spending cuts.

"We have invested heavily in infrastructure. There is a danger that it is dwindling away," he told the newspaper, with his remarks also quoted in The Guardian.

"I think a vacuum has been created and people are reacting to that inappropriately,” he continued, saying “if nothing is put in place, speeds will rise and casualties will grow,” and added that he was “disappointed with the level of leadership" shown by the government.

Meanwhile, Julie Spence, who is soon to step down as Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police and is the longest-serving head of any police force in the country, condemned speeding as “middle class antisocial behaviour."

Mrs Spence told The Daily Telegraph that "People think, 'We should be able to get away with it'. They wouldn't tolerate law breaking by somebody else but they do it themselves without thinking.”

She continued: "It all seems OK until something tragic happens, like a child dies because of a road traffic accident."

The Chief Constable added that while anti-social behaviour is typically thought of as vandalism or disruptive youths, “for too many it is the antics of drivers who refuse to accept that speed limit signs apply to them. Driving without care or consideration for other road users is probably among the worst kind of anti-social behaviour in its truest sense, because serious offenders can, and do, kill,” she added.

However, the Department of Transport has said that "it is right that local councils decide how best to tackle specific problems in their areas".

A spokeswoman for the department said: "We ended central government funding for new fixed speed cameras because we don't believe we should dictate to councils that they use them as the default solution in reducing accidents.”

Referring to the cut in the Road Safety Grant, she said: "It is not true, however, that the government has cut all funding for road safety. Rather, we have removed ringfencing from local authority grants so that councils are able to set their own priorities.

"We would expect that road safety would remain a priority for local communities and that local spending would reflect that," she concluded.

17 user comments

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If speed cameras really are a viable revenue stream, as anti-camera campaigners claim, then why does a reduction in funding result in cameras being turned off? Thinking

posted by graemeshaw [21 posts]
9th August 2010 - 12:13

1 Like

graemeshaw wrote:
If speed cameras really are a viable revenue stream, as anti-camera campaigners claim, then why does a reduction in funding result in cameras being turned off? Thinking

Councils can now use that money to fill in holes in their budgets elswhere. What looks better, speed cameras on and rubbish piling up in the streets or binmen being paid and removal of 'those danmed cameras'?

(the above may be an exageration but you get my point)

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [455 posts]
9th August 2010 - 12:56

1 Like

graemeshaw wrote:
If speed cameras really are a viable revenue stream, as anti-camera campaigners claim, then why does a reduction in funding result in cameras being turned off? Thinking

partly because the councils have to pay for the cameras (albeit with a subsidy) and the revenue goes to central government. the subsidy's been cut and the councils don't see the fine money, so the cameras are an easy win for them. it has little to do with whether they make money or not (they don't)

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7804 posts]
9th August 2010 - 13:20

1 Like

Or local drivers have learnt to slow down on the streets where these cameras were originally installed, and it'll take years for them to get out of the habit. Meanwhile, on all the other streets of Swindon, an average of 321 road traffic casualties occur every 9 months. Isn't that the real issue?

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
9th August 2010 - 13:22


According to the Department for Transport the number of people killed on the roads fell by 12 percent last year. Killed or seriously injured down 6 percent and casualties down 4 percent.

That means Swindon has followed the national trend extremely closely. Which means this isn't a story about Swindon.

What is interesting is that from 1994 to 2003 3,500 people were killed on our roads each year. But since then it's fallen every year and the rate is now 2,222 in 2009. But nobody seems to know why, and no one is claiming success.

from the DaFT web site:

1994-98 average 3,578

1999 3,423
2000 3,409
2001 3,450
2002 3,431
2003 3,508
2004 3,221
2005 3,201
2006 3,172
2007 2,946
2008 2,538
2009 2,222

posted by sharpsharp [6 posts]
9th August 2010 - 13:23


Councils have to pay a LOT for these cameras, if you can find the figures for the West of England Road Safty Partnership you will see (WoERSP)

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
9th August 2010 - 13:24

1 Like

Hang on!

Have these 'switched off' cameras actually been removed? has there been a sign hung off the back of them saying 'im off, feel free to go whatever speed you feel safe', was there a big advertising campagian in the local area to let everyone know?

If the cameras are still there (on or not) then surely we should be laughing in the face of anyone who tries to use these stats to say anything!

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [455 posts]
9th August 2010 - 16:07

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STATO - it's definitely received an awful lot of coverage in the local media (including local BBC news which we pick up here in Oxfordshire) and I've seen news reports that show the cameras covered up with orange hoods (probably not the technical term).

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9308 posts]
9th August 2010 - 16:39

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Yep, cameras are going off in Oxford too. The fact is that average speed cameras used around roadworks are proven to reduce accidents and also improve traffic flow, cutting congestion. The data for the safety benefits from simpler speed cameras are at best inconclusive. One major UK study claimed the cameras helped reduce accidents, but analysis of the data and the way this was presented then revealed that the speed cameras brought no benefit to road safety whatsoever. Put it this way, all the cameras do is make drivers slow down at the camera sites. They then speed up again. We all know this as road users. Cameras do not detect drivers under the influence of drink or drugs, driving too close or in defective vehicles.

The DfT probably won't come out and say it but the real reason the speed cameras are going off is that they bring no benefit to road safety whatsoever while being costly to run. The DfT will not reveal that its previous safety policy of focussing on speed rather than bad driving was utterly flawed and merely alienated most drivers while failing to target the worst.


posted by OldRidgeback [2535 posts]
9th August 2010 - 20:38

1 Like

Yes, Simon is right they are covered by an orange topper which has 'camera not in use' printed in black type on the side.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
10th August 2010 - 9:15

1 Like

My parents, now in their 70s, have been caught speeding 3 times between them in the last few years. They are a law-abiding and thoroughly honest pair, so I was taken aback when my mother suggested that somehow it was unfair and they weren't going fast or anything. I tried to explain that there's a speed limit for a reason but it was as if it was almost irrelevant, and somehow 34mph wasn't so terrible. I refrained from launching into a diatribe but I was very close to losing my rag Angry

I would prefer to see signs indicating that a police marksman may be on the next bridge over the road ready for anyone caught speeding, overtaking on double white lines or texting/talking on mobiles.

The subject of Oxfordshire speed cameras and the possibility of cutting Shropshire's safety cameras was in the local paper last week. A quick search also found this item from Friday's news:

"The number of motorists breaking the speed limit on the A483 through Pant has fallen by 26 per cent since speed cameras were introduced in the village in November, it was revealed today." A safety partnership person said: “Local residents told us that the speed of vehicles travelling through their village was affecting their quality of life and the safety of pedestrians and other road users." (link)

If I lived in Pant, a village strung along a busy arterial A road, I'd be very keen to keep those cameras on!

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2339 posts]
10th August 2010 - 11:18

1 Like

The village I used to live in had speed cameras at either end. It also had signs telling motorists that the speed limit was 30mph through the village.

I never once saw a motorist suddenly reduce their speed on seeing the signs, but a very high proportion of them did so just before the cameras - and of course, sped up again the other side.

Conclusion: There's a lot of motorists who are happy to break the speed limit, but not when they think they're going to be caught.

I did trip a speed camera once, coming down Cumnor Hill into Oxford, was riding my bike at the time though, so I wonder where the ticket ended up? Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9308 posts]
10th August 2010 - 13:03


All speeders think their excess velocity is reasonable; it is only those other idiots going really fast who should be caught.

All mobile phone uses think talking while driving is probably a bad idea, but their call is too important to hang up when the lights change.

All drivers stuck in traffic jams think it is the cars in front that are the problem, not them.

All people who park illegally do so only because the council hasn't provided enough parking spaces, not because they are too lazy to walk.

Strangely, if the police were to ask each person they catch breaking any law if they personally believe they had done something wrong, and deserved to be fined or arrested, crime figures would plummet to an all time low.

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
10th August 2010 - 13:25

1 Like

I always laugh in the face of the stealth tax claim. I just respond with "if you drove everywhere at the indicated legal speed then you won't have to pay any extra tax will you"? The you get the spurious, "but speed doesn't really cause accidents/I'm more alert when I go fast than when I stick to the speed limit/etc/etc".

bikeandy61's picture

posted by bikeandy61 [472 posts]
10th August 2010 - 15:58


I don't mind speed cameras and wish we had more!

I like the ones display speed while on your roadbike Big Grin

I like my bike but it needs a hidden 25cc motor Smile

Fish_n_Chips's picture

posted by Fish_n_Chips [380 posts]
10th August 2010 - 23:08


... the real reason the speed cameras are going off is that they bring no benefit to road safety whatsoever ...

For the ones I know the benefit is pretty obvious, perhaps the problem is that the benefit is not usually for the driver that "has to slow down" - I guess that idea of care for others is beyond the thinking of the selfish ****s like J. Clarkson and co.

Most are placed just before an "accident blackspot" so that the speeding driver says to itself: "a ****ing speed camera - I better slow down - but I'll speed up after, he-he". Then when they do get to the feature of interest they are already going slower than they would have been and they don't actually speed up until they are past it.
One near me (triggers on 33mph) is a traffic light junction at the bottom of a hill - if you are doing 40+ you can't stop in time if the car coming from the other road is quick of the mark. When the post-camera accidents start to occur I guess they will adjust the timing on the lights so that people have to wait longer, then more people will be upset by the resulting traffic jams, but they probably won't understand the link.

posted by robike [24 posts]
12th August 2010 - 14:50

1 Like

A lot of car-haters commenting here with the usual lies. What if the speed limit is blatantly far too low and has been set to discourage motoring rather than to improve safety? Oh, let's just ignore that and bleat "The law is the law, slower is safer and that's that"...it's better to oversimplify things when you know the facts aren't on your side.

Whatever the vested interests may claim, all drivers speed at least 4 times every 3 years. Does that mean that all drivers are irresponsible maniacs who deserve to be banned? Only a car-hater would claim that.

We need to concentrate on genuinely trying to improve road safety rather than abusing so-called "road safety" measures in order to make driving more difficult. Improving road safety and trying to get everyone out of their cars are two separate issues, and need to be kept separate: the first is something that everyone wants, while the second is something that only a minority of nutters want, and in a democracy, we need to listen to the majority who want to keep driving.

posted by Bobby Lightcycles [3 posts]
3rd June 2011 - 12:24