There was a traffic jam on the way to work the other day. At the head was an accident where a white van had driven very hard into the back of an aggregates lorry. The lorry looked untroubled. The cab of the van was horribly compressed; one had to hope the driver and any passengers survived. But it looked like they’d have had an evil, painful start to the day, and many days to come.
The site of the accident was about 50 yards short of a traffic camera (actually the start point of a digital camera area, where your numberplate is recorded and three miles later recorded again and your average speed calculated). The latest issue of Which?, the Consumers’ Association publication, has a fascinating examination of the arguments for and against speed cameras. There are lots of loud people who have quasi-arguments against them; two of those being “deaths are going up, not down”, and “they’re just put there to make money”.
The first argument is potentially stronger, until you examine the deaths in detail. Which? does. Most cameras are installed on urban and rural A roads. Few are on minor rural roads, none on motorways. Since 1992 when the first cameras were installed, deaths on urban and rural A roads have fallen rapidly, from around 2,600 in 1994 to around 2,300 in 2002. The number of deaths on motorways and minor rural roads has risen, from around 700 in 1994 to over 800 in 2002. Conclusion: something is making a different to casualties on urban and rural A roads, yet not minor rural roads and motorways. Hypothesis: speed cameras. Evidence: heavily in favour.
What about “they’re just there to make money”? Actually new cameras can only be put in places where there have been four road deaths.
And on the article goes with a relentless, yet completely fair (in that it lets both sides make their best points) manner. Again and again, the science favours speed cameras. Driving in the speed limit is safer. The piece ends with Professor Rod Kimber of the Transport Road Laboratory saying “I can’t take seriously the arguments put forward by SafeSpeed and the Association of British Drivers unless they step into the scientific domain and produce data or arguments that are subject to scientific analysis. Everyone else does – I don’t see why they don’t.”
Just to remind you, the anti-camera bunch is the group the Conservatives are courting – despite the fact that 71 per cent of people (by a Which? survey of 972 people in Britain aged 17 and over) are in favour of speed cameras. If anything could enunciate the Tories’ wilful self-destructive streak more clearly, I’d like to know what it is. But I doubt the driver of that van the other day would now argue that “speed doesn’t cause accidents”.