Campaigners have claimed a victory after figures showed the first fall in the number of tickets for motorists caught by speed cameras.
A total of 1.87 million drivers in England and Wales were fined after being caught on camera in 2005 compared with 1.91 million a year before.
By contrast the previous year saw an increase of more than 116,000 and almost 562,000 the year before that, the figures released by the Ministry of Justice show.
The fall was also accompanied by a drop in the number of parking fines issued by local authorities in 2005.
Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, attributed both decreases to more pragmatic approaches being taken to enforcement – with councils abandoning targets for parking contractors, and camera partnerships rethinking the siting of the devices.
‘I think there was no doubt that enforcement across the board whether it is speeding, whether it is parking, was becoming somewhat overzealous,’ he said.
‘Now the authorities are realising that if they are slightly more reasonable people respect the law.’
He went on: ‘We would say there is a role for speed cameras within road safety enforcement but I think what we were finding was that you were getting speed cameras put on stretches of road that would maximise the number of tickets rather than reduce the number of accidents.
‘There were examples of cameras put on slip roads to motorways where actually it is quite healthy that traffic speeds up.’
Mr King said that new rules reducing the proportion of fines going to safety camera partnerships – the joint public bodies which operate them – also appeared to have focused attention on other ways of making roads safer.
Paul Smith, founder of campaign group SafeSpeed, claimed personal credit for the fall.
‘I’m absolutely certain that my work – highlighting the serious flaws in the speed camera programme – has been instrumental in bring about the decline.’
He went on: ‘At last we’re seeing a decline in hated and ineffective speed camera activity. But it’s too little, too late.
‘British road safety has been under performing for 15 years and the principle reason has been excessive concentration on vehicle speeds coupled with complete neglect of driver quality.’
The figures show the number of parking tickets dropped to 8.25 million in 2005 from 8.54 the year before.
Parking has been gradually decriminalised in recent years – with responsibility for enforcement handed over from police to councils and their contractors.
‘As a result of that what we saw was many local authorities set targets for tickets,’ Mr King said.
‘The number of tickets given out went up dramatically but also the number of appeals went up and the number of successful appeals went up – at one stage it was eight out of ten – which showed that local authorities were actually getting it wrong.’
He said that while in the past many had treated parking as a ‘cash cow’, councils were rethinking their regimes and dropping targets from contracts raising the prospect of a further fall in next year’s figures.
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