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Articles Index > Highway Robbery
Highway Robbery
By Mark Sansby
7th June 2004

What a time it’s been recently for the infamous speed camera.

A Northumberland Brewery boss Dave Roberts has launched his own little protest against that humble grey and yellow roadside camera by launching a new ale called ‘Highway Robbery’. The pump crest shows a speed camera dressed as Dick Turpin. I reckon the beer mats will be quite a collector’s item. I’m looking forward to a national launch of the ale!

Next we hear the Government has more than doubled their income from said cameras to £1.5m in the last year. News like this and the trend of many drivers to get those easily available 3 points added to their license has lead to some insurance companies to stop loading premiums for speeding (or should I say ‘revenue’) convictions.

I’m not saying I agree with speeding. Far from it. Towns and villages are dangerous places for pedestrians. However I am in favour of safe speed.

Let me put this to you. On a national speed limit road (60mph) I overtook a car (on my motorcycle) that was travelling approximately 40mph as were the 4 cars unable to get past. As I entered a 30mph limit I slowed to the limit. 400yds further on this same car had not only gained (nearly ½ a mile) on me but then proceeded to overtake, next to the local village football field where the kids regularly play. WHY? She knows I’ll end up passing her when we enter the 60mph limit the other side of the village. So lets say I then overtake in the 60mph limit travelling around 70mph and get flashed. Who is the dangerous driver?

So what has the speed camera done for us? For most people it has shown them how easy it is to get 3 points and a fine. For others it has given them an excuse to tell everyone else how dangerous Britons roads are and how dangerous speeding is. But has it saved any lives?

An article originally shown in The Courier and Advertiser by Eamon Scott and Jules May (Sept 2003) shows some very interesting statistics. Although over the last 10 years convictions for speeding have trebled, convictions for dangerous driving have dropped by two-thirds (we obviously aren’t as dangerous on the road now). So have accident rates fallen? No.

The Government reckon 1 in 3 accidents involve excessive speed, implying if drivers would slow down accidents would decrease. Yet when cameras were first introduced (1992 – yes that long ago) the Transport Research Laboratory published data showing excessive speed was involved in about 7% of accidents. Similar results were shown in Police reports from around the Country.

Even more amazing is the statistic that until the infamous camera was introduced, accident rates were steadily falling, yet since they have only fallen slightly.

One very interesting fact they point to is a safe driving system the Police introduced in the 50’s called the Hendon Method. This system remains the principle from which Police are taught more advanced driving. This is one thing it has to say about speed :- ‘Speed is frequently looked upon as something dangerous in itself, but it is dangerous only if used in the wrong place or at the wrong time . . . the onus is always on the driver to select a speed appropriate to the conditions’

The question I suppose really is, can the average driver be trusted to know what is and isn’t appropriate?

So what happens to the money raised from ‘safety’ cameras? Does it go to improvements in road safety? Well that is the big question. Breaking it down:

Does it go to maintaining our roads, thus making them safer? No.

Does it go towards teaching road safety to kids, therefore reducing the risks of a child running onto the road? No.

Does it go to building in traffic calming measures? I know we all hate ‘em but if we must continue speeding through villages we will have something built to slow us. No.

Does it go to extra policing, so they can spot dangerous drivers, drunk drivers and possibly even thieves etc? No.

Does it go to helping newly qualified drivers understand what they have learned in passing their test and the dangers on the roads? No.

Does it help to pay for victims of accidents to obtain counselling? No

Does it go to the emergency services to train them better in dealing with road traffic accidents? No

So where does it go? Well apart from the Government having a decent amount of revenue that they can invest in such things as the EU and the ‘War on Terrorism’ the rest goes back into road safety. I think it is worth pointing out here that very little of what the motorist pays in taxes etc is spent on improving our roads. So what do they mean by road safety? They mean more cameras. Be it fixed Gasto style cameras or ‘safety vans’.

So there you are safe in the knowledge that our roads are getting safer and the ‘camera’ will continue to act as a massive induction of cash for the Government.

The argument we continually get from the Government for justification of speed (safety) cameras is the stance that ‘speed kills’. I don’t doubt that some accidents will most certainly have been avoided if one party or the other were not speeding. But is it the speed that kills? I put it that it is lack of observation and concentration that kills! If this means speed, this is inappropriate speed, which generally comes from lack of observation.

You can be travelling down a quite A road at 50mph. If a car pulls from a side junction into your path and a collision occurs who is at fault? The simple answer is the car that pulled out on you.

Travel down that same A road at 70mph, observe the sign that shows a junction ahead, next observe the car approaching that junction. You have time to slow, stop or take avoiding action (such as pull out and overtake). Now who was at fault in the first instance? And could the accident have been avoided.

If we all observed more and showed better consideration for other road users, I believe speed would be less of an issue. This still doesn’t mean it’s safe to speed, but as road conditions allow so could a little more pace.

There’s a big problem with my theory. How do you police observation?

Observation can only be policed through education. Now we needn’t take up the police’s time for this, nor the Government. What if a large organisation were able to do this for us? What if every driver were to understand more about observation, what to look for, how weather conditions change the way the car reacts and how they can show more consideration for others? What if it didn’t have to cost anything? In fact what if all of this ended up saving us money too?

Too good to be true? I don’t think so.

Every road user should have insurance. If a company such as Norwich Union were to introduce a 3 or 5 yearly refresher lesson in order to qualify for a further reduction in your premium. Yes it will include an assessment, but you can’t fail. The grade will determine your insurance status.

For example:

Over 1 ½ hour session you have a 30 min observation, 30 min where the instructor points out where you could improve followed by 30 min of assessment driving. You paid the (probably a standard) driving instructor the fee and send your receipt, assessment score and insurance forms to the company to get your premium.

Grade C, you have the assessment fee refunded.
Grade B, along with the fee there is a further 5-10% reduction in your premium.
Grade A, along with the fee there is a further 10 – 20% reduction in your premium.

Obviously this can only be a voluntary scheme, but if you premium went up by 10% if you didn’t do the assessment, I think there would be an amazing amount of volunteers.

So what are the downsides to this? I can think of only one. The Gasto will remain.

As for advantages, well there will be a significant improvement in the driving standards in the UK, the Police will be able to spend more time catching other criminals, insurance premiums will come down, the hospitals will not be full of accident victims and above all, I think together we will be able to make the UK’s the safest in the World.

All we need now is an insurance company to back the idea.


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