Speed fines 'the new poll tax'

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The RAC has told ministers that plans for a new generation of roadside cameras could turn thousands of drivers into motoring outlaws.

The RAC has told ministers that plans for a new generation of roadside cameras could turn thousands of drivers into motoring outlaws.

Experiments allowing police forces to keep the money raised from speeding fines have already seen a big rise in the number of prosecutions for speeding, and a proliferation of speed cameras.

But the motoring organisation has called the clampdown "the next Poll Tax" because of the anger it is generating, and says that disqualified drivers could be forced underground.

It is already inundated with complaints from angry drivers who feel in danger of losing their licences, said Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, the campaigning arm of the historic association.

"The best laws are laws that are respected. We have seen from the levels of calls we are getting that motorists are not accepting the proliferation of cameras because they are not related to accident black spots.

"More people will be disqualified from driving. Will they accept the justice of that? Speeding could well become the new Poll Tax if it's not handled in a way that is thought to be just.

"There's a concern that with more people getting points on their licences, that more drivers will go underground - and drive without a licence."

The camera schemes have been judged such a success that ministers want to see them taken up across the country. Northamptonshire police has seen prosecutions soar after introducing a scheme that allowed the force to keep cash collected from fines. More cameras were installed and maintained and, as a result, the number of motorists trapped jumped from 10 to 200 a day.

The force said that 17,000 drivers were caught in the three months since April compared with only 4,000 in the whole of the previous year. The other forces taking part in the scheme are Essex, Thames Valley, South Wales, Cleveland, Lincolnshire and Strathclyde.

The initiative has coincided with the launch of new digital cameras, which operate without film and can trap as many as three drivers a second.

Mr King said the RAC supported speed cameras when they were sited at accident black spots. But he said there was a danger they would be seen as "revenue raisers" by motorists rather than as safety devices if they were allowed to proliferate.

"The people writing to us are not boy racers. Most people realise that if they jump the red light that it's a fair cop. What motorists don't accept is being done for hitting a speed camera at 2am on an empty road travelling a few miles per hour above the limit."

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said the income from cameras was used strictly to maintain the camera network.