Case not proved
PUBLISHED: 11:18 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:05 06 May 2010
SIR, — Herts County Councillor Stuart Pile suggested (Herts Advertiser, March 6) that my well-researched letter about speed cameras was inaccurate and yet failed to identify a single inaccuracy. He also described my letter as making worrying accusations
SIR, - Herts County Councillor Stuart Pile suggested (Herts Advertiser, March 6) that my well-researched letter about speed cameras was inaccurate and yet failed to identify a single inaccuracy. He also described my letter as making "worrying accusations". Does he mean he learned worrying new things about speed cameras, such as the probability that they are detrimental to road safety? Is he worried that I have exposed the fallacy that a camera can "save lives"? Is he worried that a source of revenue needs to be dismantled? Or is he worried that public support for speed cameras is evaporating? He has every reason to be worried.
His claim that cameras save lives is based on reductions "at camera sites" over an unspecified period up until December 2006 - more than a year ago. These reductions have nothing to do with cameras and everything to do with statistics. The criteria for creating a camera-site require at least four serious crashes in a three-year period. Since crashes happen anywhere, any time, randomly - statistically that means that, at a new camera site, crashes are likely to return to the previous lower level regardless of any measures taken. Thus the camera appears to have reduced the number of accidents but actually they would have gone down anyway. No lives have been saved by the camera. Also, when cameras are installed, there are often other changes to the road such as signage, white lines etc. These are more likely to have had a positive effect on traffic behaviour than the camera.
But performance at camera sites is only of interest to the camera partnership so they can appear to be successful. The rest of us are interested in performance across the county, especially when the fatalities for the county are going up.
Cllr Pile says: "There is absolutely no reason why cameras should cause a distraction to motorists." So you suddenly spot a yellow box and even though your instinct tells you are travelling at a safe speed, the urge to glance at your speed is irresistible. What alert driver would not be distracted in these circumstances? But don't take my word for it. The coroner speaking at the inquest of a woman knocked down and killed near a speed camera in Stockport said: "The Gatso camera can distract the driver. The driver could momentarily be distracted and concentrate on their speed instead of the road." The police accident investigator agreed that "the cameras could distract drivers as they might concentrate on their speed rather than on the road ahead".
The Herts Camera Partnership website says: "The sole aim of the Partnership is to reduce the number of casualties on Herts roads by the introduction of more safety cameras across the county." What sort of aim is that? This is a frighteningly blinkered view of road safety, assuming as it does that cameras are the answer. Surely this should say "by whatever means prove effective"? The website says nothing about how well the Partnership are reducing casualties on Hertfordshire's roads (other than at camera sites), although this is hardly surprising when our fatalities last year were nearly 20 per cent up on 2006. This pattern is being repeated across the country. Some areas are even worse.
As most collisions occur within the speed limit and fewer than 10 per cent have excessive speed as a contributory factor, it is no wonder that our road-safety figures are getting worse - the cameras are ineffective against the vast majority of the causes of collisions.
So the cameras have a negligible positive effect and the distraction factor means they can have a negative effect. I am convinced that people are dying on our roads as a direct result of the over-reliance on speed cameras. This madness has to stop. The cameras have to go and we have to re-establish a proper police patrol presence on our roads to reduce all occurrences of poor driving.
Evans Grove, St Albans.