Speed camera data to be published to justify their use says Minister
Local road safety partnerships are to be required to publish data showing how many motorists have been caught speeding under new rules being drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT). At the same time the Association of Chief Police Officers has proposed a change to the threshold speeds at which drivers are offered speed awareness training rather than fines - which would have the effect of plugging the funding gap for speed cameras.
According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, partnerships tend to keep details of the amount of revenue raised by the cameras under close guard with the newspaper saying that they usually release data only in response to Freedom of Information requests.
That situation is set to change, however, with road safety minister Mike Penning saying that partnerships will now have to disclose information in order to provide justification of the use of speed cameras.
"For the first time people will be able to see whether their local cameras are really cutting accidents or just being used as cash cows," an anonymous Whitehall source told the newspaper. How much difference this will make to local support for speed cameras is a moot point - in most surveys 80 per cent of people support speed cameras and indeed their removal, or switching off, while popular with some sections of the media have usually been accompanied by howls of protest by those living near to the affected roads.
Not only are speed cameras popular with the general public academic studies in to their effectiveness all seem to agree they work, findings further backed up by research in to Scotland's speed camera statistics.
The information to be provided is thought to include accident rates, how many motorists have been caught speeding, and possibly how many have been offered speed awareness training instead of having points put on their licence.
The move ties in with the coalition government’s stated aim of ending the so-called “war on motorists,” although with the Road Safety Grant already slashed by 60% in the wake of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats coming to power, many cash-strapped local authorities have already decided to switch off cameras to save money.
When Oxfordshire County Council decided to turn off its cameras at the end of July, it was discovered that the number of drivers speeding at one location in the county previously covered by a camera had soared by 88%.
At the time, Inspector Paul Winks of Thames Valley Police told the BBC that those statistics were "disappointing," saying: "It clearly means switching off the camera has given a green light to a small number of people to break the law.” He added: "The consequence is more death and more death is unacceptable."
It has since been reported that the county’s cameras will be turned back on, with Thames Valley Police bearing the cost of operating them, although other councils are considering dispensing with the devices, such as South Yorkshire, which is undertaking a trial camera switch-off in Rotherham.
When the cameras were turned off in Oxfordshire, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) warned councils not to put road safety at risk by turning off speed cameras in an attempt to balance budgets, reflecting the point, often lost in the debate, that if drivers actually adhered to the legal speed limit in the first place, there would be no need for the devices.
Now, according to The Daily Telegraph, ACPO is planning to make speed awareness training available to more motorists caught speeding, instead of issuing them with a fine and endorsing their driving licence with three points. Doing this would mean the Road Safety Partnerships - which are funded by the police and local councils would be able to keep more of the money raised by speed cameras - while fines have to be paid over to to the Treasury money raised by speed awareness courses doesn't.
ACPO is due to discuss next month whether to raise the threshold below which the courses are offered by 3mph. That would mean that the courses would be offered to drivers travelling at speeds of up to 42mph in a 30mph zone, instead of the 39mph that currently applies. For 40mph zones, the upper limit would rise from 50mph to 53mph, and in areas with a 50mph speed limit, they would be increased from 61mph to 64mph.
With the government ending funding for new speed cameras shortly after it came to power, the money will be “vital” to road safety partnerships, reports the newspaper. It adds that where cameras remain in operation, the government wants local residents to be made aware of how effective they are in reducing accidents.
According to Mr Penning, "Public bodies should be accountable and if taxpayers' money is being spent on speed cameras then it is right that information about their effectiveness is available to the public.
"The proposals I have announced today will help show what impact cameras are having on accident and casualty rates and also how the police are dealing with offenders.
"This is in line with our commitment to improve transparency of government data so that the public are able to make more informed judgements about the work of local and central government,” he added.
The DfT plans to publish its final proposals in April next year after consultation with police forces, local authorities and the Highways Agency.
The move was welcomed by Andrew Howard, the AA's head of road safety, who said: "We have always supported transparency as a way of making cameras publicly acceptable."
Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, added: "I am completely comfortable with this. It is the sort of thing better partnerships will have been doing and it is building on good practice."