Speed cameras: The right's blind spot

Speeding drivers kill or seriously injure twice as many people a year as drug misuse - but the right refuses to face the problem

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The Independent Online

Imagine the reaction of the conservative press if it was suggested that the perpetrators of a crime which claims almost 1,000 lives a year were treated more leniently.

The right-wing press would crow about liberal do-gooders, cocooned in their metropolitan bubble and incapable of comprehending the broken lives caused by the crime.

Why? Because conservatives are tough on crime. Or at least they like to pretend so.

However while they may support tougher sentencing for offenders, harsher prison conditions and heavy fines for criminals, there is one expression of illegality where conservatives will openly side with the perpetrator and against the victim.

If anything brings out a staunch right-winger's inner-liberal, it is the speed camera: the only proven deterrent to the speeding driver.

When it comes to the shiny yellow box at the roadside invented to tackle this menace, the veneer of respect for the law of the land slips off as easily as a snake’s skin.

On Friday a study by the RAC Foundation was released which showed that on average deaths and serious injuries were down by a quarter in sites where speed cameras are located. Analysis of data from 551 fixed speed cameras in nine areas found that on average the number of fatal and serious collisions in the vicinity fell by 27 per cent after the installation of cameras. There was also an average reduction of 15 per cent in collisions resulting in injuries in areas with cameras.

As Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, put it: “At the end of 2010 we published a report by Professor Richard Allsop which concluded that without speed cameras there would be around 800 more people killed or seriously injured each year at that time. Overall his new work reinforces those earlier conclusions.”

The RAC's data adds to an increasing body of evidence showing that speed cameras save lives. In Scotland a 2011 report found that the number of people killed or seriously injured at safety camera sites was 68 per cent lower after cameras were installed. 2010 figures from the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership also showed that at the 212 fixed camera sites across the wider Thames Valley region, there was a 38 per cent drop in vehicle collisions compared to the three years before cameras were in place.

And yet opponents of speed cameras are having none of it. Unbelievably the Daily Mail has even attempted to use the new RAC data to try and claim that speed cameras cause accidents rather than help to prevent them. Apart from showing utter contempt for the loved ones of those killed every year by out of control drivers, a reaction like this reveals the transparent hypocrisy of the right’s approach to criminality.

However apologists for speeding have powerful and influential friends. When the coalition came to power in 2010 it promised to end what it called the "war on the motorist". It set to work immediately, stopping central government funding for new safety cameras and allowing councils to axe funding for cameras in order to make savings.

“In the coalition agreement the government made clear it would end central funding for fixed speed cameras…This is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist," road safety minister Mike Penning boasted as local councils began switching their cameras off.

While this fightback probably pleased Jeremy Clarkson and other self-described petrol heads, the result has been disastrous for the law abiding majority. Since 2010 road deaths have started going up after a long period of decline. There were 1,901 people killed on Britain’s roads in 2011, up on the figure of 1,857 for 2010 which was itself the first year deaths had increased in almost 10 years.

Of those killed or seriously injured in 2011, speed was a factor in 3,267 cases.

To put the problem into some kind of context, half that number (1,605 people) died in the same year because of drug misuse. The hypocrisy of the hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade is evident when one considers that those sections of the media which complain the loudest about a "war on the motorist" are usually the most gung ho when it comes to prosecuting things like the failed "war on drugs".

The last time I checked, breaking the speed limit was against the law. If so, why should self-interest be permitted to trump civilised behaviour as soon as you close the driver’s door and belt up?

More speed cameras please, and fewer lost and ruined lives.