I-spy guide for people in a hurry

A NEW menace emerged on the roads last week. Spy cameras, which had previously been limited to catching motorists who jumped red traffic lights, were given an enhanced role under the Road Traffic Act 1991, which came into force on Wednesday. For the first time, photographs taken by the cameras can be used to prosecute drivers for speeding.

The cameras work on a trigger mechanism activated by cars travelling above the speed limit. The camera, using a flash, records two images, half a second apart, enabling police to work out the vehicle's speed. The cameras, housed in protective boxes, will be perched on poles in the central reservations of major roads.

Here we tell you all you need to know about the cameras:

Will the cameras be used to monitor offences other than speeding?

No, says Supt Chris Leithead, of the Metropolitan Police traffic headquarters. They are only triggered by speeding cars. 'But if you're driving a clapped-out heap that ought not to be on the road, we might pay you a visit.'

Will the cameras be signalled so that I know they are there?

No, but you will know cameras are operating in the area.

Can I be prosecuted more than once for speeding past a series of cameras on the same journey?

Very unlikely if the cameras are yards apart. But if you went past four cameras on different sections of the M1 at 90mph, you could be committing four separate offences - and lose your licence after a single day's speeding.

Can the camera see in the dark?

Perfectly, says Supt Leithead.

Can the camera distinguish between similar number plates?

Definition is 'superb', according to Supt Leithead. But the AA says: 'We have been calling for safeguards. The police should check that you do own the type of car shown on their photographs.'

How many boxes will have cameras in them?

About one in eight. But they will all have flashes. In London, the police aim to set up about 400 boxes over the next few years.

What do I do if I am convinced I wasn't speeding?

Go to court and plead not guilty. But expect the police to produce a barrage of experts testifying to the brilliance of the cameras and telling magistrates about the computer technology that never lies. You might think twice before doing this.

What if someone else was driving the car?

Tell the police. Failure to do so carries the same penalty as speeding. And bosses beware: if an employee takes the company car without telling you, is pictured speeding and doesn't own up, the points go on your licence.

If I already have several points on my licence, what is to stop me pretending that my partner was driving?

Nothing at all, except that your partner might take exception.

Will a photograph be sent to my home? It might tell my partner I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A photograph is sent if you plead not guilty. If your relationship suffers, tough.

Can I foil the cameras by dirtying my number plates?

Yes, but it's an offence to have unreadable number plates.

Can I go so fast that the picture is too blurred?

Yes, but only if you're Nigel Mansell. At 120mph the pictures still come out.

Who has access to the films?

They will be stored by the police traffic unit but can be passed to other parts of the police service and 31 other organisations, including the secret service, according to civil liberties groups.

Can the information be passed to private detectives?

Any officer who did so would be sacked, say police.

Will the information be destroyed?

Yes, when no longer required.

Could the information be used in other prosecutions, for instance to suggest that a suspect had been near the scene of a crime?


Can the cameras be trained on my back garden?

No, they are fixed to face the road - although they can be turned on to either carriageway.

Are the cameras vandal-proof?

No, but they're 'bloody strong', says Supt Leithead. And how will you know you're vandalising a box with a camera inside it?

Do the cameras take pictures of everyone going above the speed limit?

No. But police are reluctant to say how fast you must go before triggering them.

Will cameras make it safer?

Yes, say police. In Victoria, Australia, they brought a 21 per cent reduction in casualties and a 30 per cent drop in deaths.

Can the cameras be foiled by plates that reflect the flash?

No, says Supt Leithead. Yes, says Allan Wilkins of Magic Plates, an Oxfordshire firm that makes reflective plates. We took the photograph below of a normal plate and a reflective plate using a flash - but our darkroom warns that, under certain conditions, the numbers might show up. In addition, lawyers wonder whether the reflective plates are legal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Bookkeeper / Office Administrator

£17550 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a standalone role based...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'