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Speed camera rules ‘vary massively’

Study shows system can be 'complex and messy'


A go slow sign on a road

The way speed cameras are set up to catch drivers varies ‘massively’ around the country, researchers have found.

Motorists can drive up to 15mph over the speed limit before they are flashed by a camera in some areas, and in others they will rarely be pursued to pay their fine.

Researchers at Oxford University’s Said Business School embarked on the study of the nation’s speed cameras as part of an investigation into how our activities are increasingly regulated by technology.

The speed camera study, according to one researcher, turned up ‘shocking’ evidence of how different speed camera partnerships interpreted the Department for Transport’s guidelines.

Speed limits

Senior research fellow Dan Neyland said he was particularly concerned to find that one of the partnerships – all of which participated in the study on condition of anonymity – set the cameras only to capture vehicles travelling over 45mph in a 30mph zone because it only had enough staff to process so many prosecutions.

He said: ‘There was a massive variation to the extent that some of the partnerships interpretations of the rules were right on the limits and went against the spirit if not the letter of the guidelines.’

Mr Neyland and his colleague Professor Steve Woolgar, who headed the research, worked with postgraduate students and found that far from a uniform policy which ensures those who drive too fast are caught and prosecuted, the system can be ‘complex and messy’.

He said he was ‘surprised’ to find that much of the process is carried out manually, from staff examining photographs to identify number plates to changing films in the machines.

Most partnerships, he said, seemed to care equally about the safety cameras provided and the revenue they generated, but overall only 60 to 70 per cent of drivers would end up paying their fines.

‘There was an interest in revenue in that they wanted to maximise the amount of revenue they were getting from drivers who were driving too fast,’ he said.

‘The odd aspect is that people working at the partnership have no incentive to do it well because if they did, drivers would not speed and revenue would not be generated so they would be out of a job.’

Road deaths

But Mr Neyland said he has found the Department for Transport (DfT) ‘resistant’ to discussions about the findings.

A DfT spokesman said: ‘Speed cameras play a valuable role in improving road safety.They have been proven by independent researchers to significantly reduce deaths and casualties on our roads – equating to 1,745 fewer deaths and serious injuries per year at camera sites.

‘However, we have always said and continue to say that the most effective camera is one that does not need to flash – as this means they are doing their job and deterring motorists from speeding. DfT has laid down firm rules on many issues relating to speed cameras, particularly around their clear signing and conspicuousness.

‘Alongside this, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has published guidelines for individual police forces concerning the speeds above which enforcement action should be taken.’

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