20mph Community Speedwatch

20mph Community Speed Watch on Heslington Road York

Recently, Anna Semlyen started acting as a volunteer in the local Community Speedwatch in York.

Here is her experience of volunteering.

Cllr Andy D’Agorne instigated Community Speed Watch in my ward, Fishergate.  Speed Watch is when volunteers stand by the roadside monitoring speeds and report vehicles to the police who send the owners a letter. Andy has been a firm supporter of 20’s Plenty for York since its start.  I offered to be on his team for the 20mph road near where my daughter lives half time.

First we were trained by a police volunteer and signed an agreement with North Yorkshire Police who require many conditions e.g. 3-4 volunteers, pre-agreed locations only and that no hand or other signals are made to passing drivers. Volunteers must wear high-viz and put up large yellow community speed watch road signs.  Rules say that it can’t be done in bad weather or poor visibility.

I asked the police representative “What is the evidence that sending a letter to a driver deliberately speeding past a community speed watch sign does any good?” I had to email in and Jamie Smith the North Yorkshire Police Speed Watch Co-ordinator wrote back “Unfortunately there are no studies that have been published around Community Speed Watch. However, in results of a pilot in 2015 local residents were very positive and stated they enjoyed doing something that they could physically see was helping improve safety. Feedback from people caught was also positive as they appreciated the warning letter system rather than having a speed awareness course or fine and points as the result of a first offence.

North Yorkshire Police policy is that Community Speed Watch is offered to where, following data collection, there is a relatively low, or no speeding problem. Previously, these complaints would have resulted in a No Further Action outcome. Public feedback received showed that people were happy to get involved in a community based initiative rather than having no outcome at all.

As of June 2018, from all 39 Speed Watch groups North Yorkshire volunteers had reported 7177 speed watch offences. 5507 were actioned. 5276 1st letters have been sent (96%) -i.e. the vast majority of drivers receiving letters take note and change their driver behaviour on routes like their commute to work or school. 2nd letters sent is 211. There have been 20 third offences when local officers attend the address of the registered keeper.”

Us volunteers are coordinated by Andy to calendar together by email to choose a date, time and then a direction of traffic.  Sometimes it’s difficult to get three unpaid people doing this ‘Big Society’ job together.  When we manage it, Andy brings the kit, one holds the speed gun and aims to call out speeders with a number over 24mph and the number plate (or 35mph in a 30mph area) as drivers pass the Community Speed Watch Sign 100m away. Another calls out the car colour, make and model (2 out of 3 of these bits of information are required) and another writes it all down. Rules say we aren’t allowed to take photos of the number plates. Sometimes I record on my mobile phone our voices to play them back so we can more accurately record the details.

The person calling out the colour is also clicking a counter of all cars passing and that overall number is recorded. This is supposed to estimate the proportion of speeding traffic (though it vastly underestimates as only the first car speeding is ever listed on the sheet as its physically impossible to get the number plates of speeders in a bunch).

Andy then goes home to put all the information on the speed watch data sheet into a spreadsheet and sends it to the police.

When I’ve done Speed Watch on a 20mph road near a primary school and there are, unfortunately still many drivers speeding. I wonder if the proportions will go down?  It’s perhaps a bit early to tell as we’ve only been at it for a couple of months.

At least it shows that us resident volunteers – (variously called busy bodies/vigilantes/concerned citizens) care about road speeds and that the police are willing to do something to slightly enforce 20mph through volunteer labour. 

Average speed cameras would be so much better of course as they’d be able to trigger sending out a fine.  But there aren’t any fixed cameras in York and all the mobile locations are pre advertised!  I love cameras – read my blog on why there aren’t enough of them at http://www.20splenty.org/camera_blog

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  • Andy D'Agorne
    commented 2018-09-14 10:06:01 +0100
    Only criticism would be “North Yorkshire Police policy is that Community Speed Watch is offered to where, following data collection, there is a relatively low, or no speeding problem” is not quite accurate – it is offered where there is no personal injury accident record but 85th percentile of speeds at or above the limit plus 10% +2mph. That IS a speeding problem to my mind in 15% are travelling that fast.