Too simple

PUBLISHED: 16:04 03 April 2008 | UPDATED: 13:08 06 May 2010

SIR — Nick Anderson (Herts Advertiser letters, March 27) suggests that by keeping his speed within the limit he avoids the distractions of speed cameras. But that over-simplifies the issue and completely misses the thrust of my argument against cameras, w

SIR - Nick Anderson (Herts Advertiser letters, March 27) suggests that by keeping his speed within the limit he avoids the distractions of speed cameras. But that over-simplifies the issue and completely misses the thrust of my argument against cameras, which is that by being forced to focus attention on speed, many drivers are paying insufficient attention to the driving fundamentals that prevent accidents.

If driving within the limit significantly reduced accidents, I would agree with Mr Anderson, but it doesn't. Most accidents - official Government figures suggest around 90-95 per cent - happen within the prevailing speed limit. Of the remainder, many are caused by drink, drugs, joyriding in stolen cars, or police chases - that is, never going to respond to legal requirements.

This leaves a tiny number of crashes, two to three per cent perhaps, where exceeding a speed limit is believed to be a main contributing factor. The top causes of road accidents are carelessness, inattention and misjudgment - within the speed limit. It is common to see accounts that someone was hit by a "speeding driver" but that is often lazy reporting and does not mean that they were necessarily exceeding the limit.

Many people equate driving legally with driving safely. Indeed Mr Anderson finishes his letter by reminding us that speeding is an offence. I have never suggested driving over the limit is desirable or that it should be encouraged but I will argue that it can be safe. Consider, for example, the scenario where your speedometer does not work. Could you drive your car safely? You may unwittingly slightly exceed the local limit occasionally but if you drive according to the conditions and so that you are able to stop safely on your own side of the road in the distance you can see to be clear, then you should be perfectly safe. There are exceptions - for example 60mph can feel very slow when you leave a motorway and a glance at your speedometer is helpful to "recalibrate". Otherwise you do not need a speedometer to drive safely - you do, of course, need one to drive legally. Strict and often over-zealous application of speed limits has gone hand-in-hand with the roll out of speed cameras, but this has not had a positive effect on road safety - it is essential to fund the speed camera organisations. The Herts Camera Partnership received £2.5m in fines last year (from about 40,000 drivers), but to what purpose when fatalities on the county's roads are getting worse?

In his recent letter, Herts County Councillor Stuart Pile claimed that "there are unfortunate circumstances in which collisions occur which we cannot prevent". What he should have admitted was that "policing by cameras" has created an "underclass" of lawless road users who are playing the system in the knowledge that the cameras will not be able catch them. They include vehicles registered elsewhere in Europe - noticed the proliferation of foreign plates - because the drivers know the camera partnerships will not waste their money tracking them down.

Similarly "cloned plates" are known to be on the increase, as are vehicles registered at false addresses, and there are numerous unreadable plates despite recent laws about legibility. These cars cannot be traced through cameras and are almost certainly fuelling our poor driving record. Only an increased police presence on the roads can deter such behaviour.

I have been corresponding with several camera partnerships over the last six months and have been disturbed by the false assertions and bogus claims made by them based on modelling studies often more than 10 years old that have since been disproved and discredited. They conveniently ignore the evidence that can be found on our roads every day. They publish misleading statistics and have become obsessed with applying the law but they have lost sight of road safety.

The safety argument for speed cameras is flawed and recent cases in Herts, Essex, Dorset, Kent and others where thousands of convictions have been deemed unlawful, confirm that the "business argument" is also crumbling. How much longer will speed cameras be tolerated?

ERIC BRIDGSTOCK,

Evans Grove, St Albans.

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