Speed cameras reduce deaths by 70 per cent

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Speed cameras have helped to cut fatal accidents in an area of west London by 70 per cent since 1992. Officials at the Department of Transport said a pilot scheme - which saw the number of speed cameras rise from 21 to 36 - has led to a saving of pounds 20m.

The number of fatal accidents fell from 62 to 19 in the area covered, with serious accidents falling by 28 per cent. Gavin Strang, the Transport minister, said he considered "between half and two-thirds" of the lives saved could be attributed to the cameras.

Dr Strang, whose department is reviewing speed limits, pointed out that a third of all 3,600 road deaths a year could be attributed to speed. "Excessive speed is a killer. Two-thirds of drivers are breaking the 30mph speed limits and what needs to change is the volume of drivers speeding," said Dr Strang.

Since the initial scheme, there are now 400 cameras covering London's entire trunk- road network. The Highways Agency, the body charged with maintaining Britain's trunk roads and motorways, estimates that there are more than 1,000 cameras on the nation's roads.

Because of the cost of operating cameras, many are left unfilled and instead used as a deterrent to stop drivers speeding. "We usually have a ratio of 1 to eight. That is one camera with film in it and eight that flash. The motorist does not know either way and we have found that the system does reduce speeds," said Sergeant Roger Reynolds, part of the Metropolitan Police traffic operations branch.

Sgt Reynolds pointed out that on the original test site at Twickenham bridge in London, more than 8,000 vehicles a day would travel at 60mph despite the speed limit set at 40mph. When the last camera was installed earlier this year, only 31 offences were registered.

Dr Strang admitted the cameras, which cost pounds 15,000 to pounds 20,000 each, were expensive and said the cash had to be found within existing budgets and urged local authorities to find the resources to fund them.

Chief Superintendent Brian Mackenzie, of the Police Superintendents Association, said: "It's certainly remarkable evidence and it's certainly something we'll be taking up with Government, with the Home Office, and I think Chief Constables will redouble their efforts." But he warned that some of the money saved by accident prevention must go back to the police so they could afford to buy speed cameras.