Safety Cameras

A Call for Safety Camera Enforcement of 20mph limits

by Anna Semlyen, 20’s Plenty for Us National Campaign Manager

Over three times as many people die each year on our roads than from violent crimes (1,775 road deaths[1] in 2014 vs 534 homicides 2013/4[2]). Our driving attitudes and behaviours must change to prevent this unnecessary risk and suffering. Slower speeds are effective at road danger reduction[3], yet the police don’t always agree[4] to enforce our democratically agreed lower limits.

Some say “what's the point of 20mph limits if they're not enforced”?  There is evidence that, even without enforcement, average speeds drop after a signs and lines wide area 20mph implementation. The Department of Transport 2013 guidance references a 1mph drop[5].  Importantly, Portsmouth found that speeds fall most on roads that had higher average speeds before the 20mph limits were introduced. Even 1mph less reduces crashes and injuries by up to 6%.[6]

Driver compliance results from educating and engaging with drivers as well as enforcement. In particular, explaining the benefits of 20mph and making speeding socially unacceptable.  Then drivers enforce it on others via a ‘convoy effect’ - those at a maximum of 20mph make others comply behind.  ‘Pacer vehicles’ can peg other’s speeds – e.g. council vehicles, buses and licensed taxis (who can obey 20mph limits or risk their license or job).  Brighton and Hove Council, for instance, gave taxis ‘20mph it’s the law’ stickers so that customers will understand about obeying limits.

Some police forces like Thames Valley in Oxford or in Liverpool stop speeding drivers, caution them and show them an awareness raising video or literature.  Yet speed enforcement can arguably be done more cost effectively and efficiently by safety cameras rather than by officers.  Fixed cameras can be deployed 24/7 and can catch more drivers who are speeding more often. Yet cameras haven’t arrived in many 20mph places yet.  Average speed cameras are reducing in cost.  I predict that they will come to 20mph areas soon.  It makes sense for councils and police to enforce 20mph limits with technology.

Currently the least worst offenders are offered either a caution, points and a fine or speed awareness course (which now includes a 20mph option).  If getting caught costs drivers money those with speeding tendencies are more likely to comply with the law.  Those clearly flouting speed limit laws should be sentenced and their licences removed. 

In the City of London’s October 2015 20mph Speed Limit Report[7], City of London Police are evidenced as enforcing 20mph. In the 12 months from August 2014, in 20mph areas there have been:

  • 370 Traffic Offence Reports
  • 180 Endorsable Fixed Penalty
  • 99 Court Summons

Importantly the proportion of those caught speeding above 31mph has reduced from above 50% to 25%.

Yet, perversely in many other places British social norms seem to have given ground to those who speed, as though it’s a minor misdemeanour – i.e. that anyone might have a slip of the accelerator pedal without facing the blame for the (sometimes terrible) consequences. Yet even if there's no actual crash, speeding is intimidating and increases fear which can deter them from walking, cycling or allowing children independent travel or outdoor play.  Consequently there is less active travel and further health problems from inactivity.  Speeding is a real and significant public health risk that the UK is not effectively tackling!

We’ve got fixed cameras that are painted yellow, not hidden. Locations are marked by sat navs, not secret. Even mobile camera locations are advertised by the police on their websites, not randomly applied. Few unadvertised speed enforcement days with fixed penalty notices or speed awareness courses happen at all in the UK. Why?  Maybe it’s lobbying from motoring groups, or because road crimes aren’t logged or in police targets quite like other crimes. RoadPeace’s Road Justice campaign is calling for police to include victims of law breaking drivers in victim of crime statistics. The number of people killed by law breaking drivers is not even counted at present[8].

Compare this with plain clothed, in store detectives, security tags and CCTV to catch shoplifters. Shoplifting (property crime that won’t kill or maim anyone) isn't tolerated. Yet speeding (an aggressive, dangerous crime which can kill and frighten) still appears to be.  

44% of drivers regularly break the National 30mph limit according to RAC research[9]. Yet at 30mph 47% of those over 60 years old would die if hit[10]. It’s just so risky to hit someone even at 30mph and exponentially more dangerous at higher speeds. Drivers are twice as likely to kill someone when going at 35mph than at 30mph. At 40mph nine out of 10 pedestrians will die. At 20mph just 3% would die.

So what can be done about inappropriately high speeds?

1) Campaign for a wide area 20mph limit with 20's Plenty for Us. Your top target to persuade is the local council cabinet member responsible for Transport.  Compliance with 20mph limits will improve as drivers see the benefits of slower speeds especially if they are supported by the police. Ideally a multi-agency 20mph plan involves the police, director of public health and council all working together. 

2) Report roads where speeding is a concern to the police -e.g. In North Yorkshire complete a 95 Alive form. Report your speed concerns to Councillors too as Councillors have responsibility for setting appropriate limits. 

3) Ask your Police and Crime Commissioner to prioritise road speed enforcement. Before and during elections, ask PCC and Council candidates to put 20mph in their manifestos or to commit to roads policing publicly.

4) Volunteer to do speed watch and hold a speed gun through a Community Speed Scheme[11]. Another person records number plates. Offer through your local police / neighbourhood watch. The police then send those who are speeding cautionary letters.

5) Demand funding changes in favour of more cameras. Safety Camera Partnerships originally reclaimed money from the Department for Transport which they then spent on the operating costs of the cameras, additional safety measures such as speed awareness courses, public relations, and staff expenses.  Since April 2007 funding for Safety Camera partnerships has been significantly altered; all funding is now passed to Local Authorities/County Councils as an enhanced road safety grant.  Safety Camera Partnerships must bid annually for funding to council budget holders along with other local authority funded organisations to carry out their operations. As a result of this funding change the cost of running cameras fell onto local Councils.  Spending cuts and the need to save costs due to the recession led in 2010/11 to many Councils reviewing their spending.  Demand changes to speed camera funding through your MP.  If the budget holders running the cameras could recoup the costs directly in fines then we’d have more working cameras.

Speed is a feature of every crash where the driver failed to stop in time.  Safety cameras are important tools in the campaign to civilise our streets from abuse by law breaking drivers. Speed is greed. Let’s make it socially unacceptable and an effective way to do that is through hefty fines against offenders. Some countries, like Finland, charge speeding fines by income - so millionaires pay more.

Motoring organisations try to portray speeding fines as a tax on motoring. This is UNTRUE.  Safety cameras protect all road users from unnecessary risk and predictable, preventable harm. Cameras are prevention. Just as MOT checks aim to protect us all from unsafe vehicles, cameras protect society from reckless drivers.  

As 20mph is increasingly recognised as the right speed limit for our built up areas, camera technology should be deployed more often to remind drivers to obey the law and punish those who don’t.  Safety cameras can maximise the cost effectiveness of 20mph limits.  Cameras make great health economic sense to society by protecting all road users from intimidation and actual harm.  2013 Guidance from the DfT recommends them: “Average speed cameras may provide a useful tool for enforcing compliance with urban speed limits”[12].

Wider, fuller use of slower speed limits and cameras fits with Vision Zero - the idea that no-one need die or be seriously injured on the roads. This is the kinder, better future we all want for our family, friends and loved ones when out on the 90+% of built up area public open spaces we call roads and pavements.


[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445662/rec-crime-2003-2015.ods

 Recorded homicides includes murder, manslaughter, infanticide and corporate manslaughter

[3] https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph31 Preventing Unintentional Road Injuries Among the Under 15’s Nov 2010

[4] E.g. North Yorkshire’s Crime and Police Commissioner is on record as not endorsing or enforcing York’s 20mph limits

[5] Setting Local Speed Limits Department for Transport 01/2013 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/setting-local-speed-limits

[12] Setting Local Speed Limits Department for Transport 01/2013 para 97 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/setting-local-speed-limits

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  • commented 2015-10-28 14:41:25 +0000
    I couldn’t agree more. Camera technology with ANPR is now so good that it can be used to enforce the speed limit very easily without diverting increasingly scarce police resources. The problem is a lack of political will at the top level and a reluctance to upset motorists. Philip Hammond’s first statement as the new Transport Secretary in 2010 was that he was going to ‘end the war on the motorist’. He quickly moved on, but the DfT has never quite recovered from this rash promise. The withdrawal of funding was announced by Mike Penning in the Commons in June 2010. I suspect that much of the existing camera network, away from the HE roads and motorways, is now old and ineffective. My local attempts to extend the siting of fixed cameras to well-known speeding hotspots, backed up by extensive data from Community Speed Watch, have been rejected by the local camera partnership (Kent and Medway) who stick rigidly to the rule that no cameras can be installed unless the site in question has had at least three serious injury crashes in three years. They say their hands are tied by government policy but I doubt this is the case.
    I hope you have submitted evidence to the current Commons Transport Committee inquiry into road traffic enforcement on these issues.
  • published this page in Blog 2015-10-27 21:17:17 +0000