Richard Bremner: 'We must have a rethink about the speed camera'

Gatso cameras do not deter drivers from speeding, they are not effective life-savers, they may even cause accidents and they are undermining respect for the law.

These are the conclusions of Autocar magazine, which also contends the presence of cameras has led to the departure of traffic police from our roads and a significant decline in the detection of serious driving offences. It notes, for instance, that the number of vehicle-defect notices issued between 1996 and 2001 has halved, not because there are fewer sub-standard vehicles, but because they are not being caught by police. That allows 100,000 more defective vehicles on our roads every year.

Detected dangerous driving offences have declined, too, by 1,000 a week, and warnings to transgressing motorists have halved between 1996 and 2001. The increased reliance on speed cameras for policing is allowing driving offences of other kinds to rise, the magazine claims. And there is growing evidence, from the Department of Transport, that Gatso cameras, named after their inventor, Maus Gatsonides, a Dutch architect, are not imposing the desired drop in fatalities.

The Government, which has mounted a sustained and laudable campaign to reduce road casualties, says cameras are there to save lives, not generate revenue. But, since 1996, the offences detected by speed cameras has increased to more than a million, and the number of deaths has declined by only 5 per cent, from 3,598 to 3,431.

Serious road accidents, what the DfT calls "all severities", have also fallen slightly. But there there has been a dramatic drop in casualties since 1967, when front seatbelts were made compulsory. But improvements in vehicle crash protection have contributed much to the improvement.

All this is not to say cameras are not useful when they are positioned intelligently. Yet, astonishingly, on the 10 most dangerous roads in England, Wales and Scotland, a total distance of 137 miles, there are only four cameras, say euroRap, the independent European road-safety group, and Cyclops, which monitors camera locations.

A policeman, unnamed by Autocar, claimed local forces are disbanding their traffic police after what are considered enough cameras have been installed. That allows the prevalence of drink-driving, driving with disqualification and the use of defective, uninsured vehicles to rise. The officer wants sensible use of cameras, with greater co-operation between councils that build the roads, and dedicated traffic police tackling drivers who have invalid insurance and tax, and defective vehicles. This, he says, will ensure a real reduction in casualties.

Autocar concludes there is urgent need for change, including reinstatement of traffic police and the more intelligent siting of cameras, better driver education and re-engineering of roads to reduce risk. Above all, the magazine says, we need a more intelligent approach to reducing casualties than can be achieved by carpeting the country with dumb, grey, flashing boxes. Speed and speeding - and they are not the same thing - have become such emotive subjects they prevent intelligent application and enforcement of traffic law, to the point of costing lives. We must have fresh thinking.

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