The crazy economics of road safety strikes again in East Anglia

Suffolk has become the latest county to switch off all of its fixed speed cameras as part of a cost cutting measure. Suffolk's switch off followed what has become an oft repeated pattern across the UK. The move has been greeted with dismay by the chairman of the Suffolk Police Authority.

With local authority spending being squeezed by central government, at the start of this year the county council voted to save £1million by cutting funding to the Suffolk Safecam partnership, this ceased in April. For their part Suffolk police made clear that they would not be in a position to maintain and operate the network of cameras. Responsibility for the fixed cameras was however transferred to the Suffolk Constabulary on 30 June and the network's two remaining working cameras were switched off on 1 July. Suffolk Police have also taken sole responsibility for mobile speed camera enforcement in the county and have commited to re-deploy that resource to the areas affected by the speed camera switch-off which include a number sites regarded as accident blackspots.

After the switch off it transpired that members of the local police authority were only told about the move days before it was due to happen. Speaking to the Eastern Daily Press Joanna Spicer, chairman of the Suffolk Police Authority revealed that there had been "“confusion over the ownership of fixed cameras”, she went on to say that:

“I am personally very upset that this has happened. I would obviously have preferred discussions to have taken place before the cameras were switched off but I have been assured that mobile cameras have been redeployed to those areas.”

“The police had already agreed to take on sole responsibility for mobile cameras, for which additional funding was needed through increased charges on driver awareness courses. Clearly we, the police, need to make a decision about fixed cameras.”

The problem for police forces and local authorities is that fixed speed cameras are expensive to maintain and Government rules do not allow the money raised from speed cameras to be spent on maintaining them instead it has to be passed back to the exchequer. One reason why even in those areas that still have a notionally operating network many of the cameras don't actually work.

Earlier this year the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) suggested changes to the guidelines on speeding offences that would allow more of those motorists caught to be sent on speeding awareness courses, for which they could be charged, but not fined for as a way of securing funding for speed cameras and other speed reduction initiatives.

Last year Oxfordshire became the first local authority to switch of its fixed camera speed network in a bid to save £600,000 despite warnings from safety groups and the police as to the consequences. After six months the county council switched the cameras back on as fatal casualties for the county rose by 50 per cent.

While speed cameras have been the focus of much heated debate in the press with many commentators seeing them as the visible signs of a Government sponsored "War on the Motorist" every opinion poll on the subject suggests they remain extremely popular with the general public, including motorists and are especially popular amongst those communities blighted by motorists speeding through them.

A study for the RAC Foundation last year by Professor Richard Allsop of University College London concluded that the human cost of a nationwide camera switch off would be an extra 800 deaths a year. According to Department of Transport figures the economic cost to the nation of a road fatality is £1.8m, so while speed camera switch offs may save local authorities relatively small amounts of money in response to government cuts they may actually end up costing the government more money. By our estimate the six month Oxfordshire speed camera switch off - cost the nation £10.8m to save the county £600,000.

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.