Wednesday, September 14, 2016
If you’re concerned that the concept of road safety has lost its way, here are some facts: 

  1. In 2015 a single speed camera in east London photographed 17,110 drivers. 
  2. Since 2013 the number of average speed cameras has doubled and the UK now has the greatest number in the world. 
  3. In 2015 1.2 million drivers were sent on speed awareness courses – twice the number in 2010. 
  4. Since 2010 the number of police traffic patrols has declined by one third. 
  5. In 2015 there were 8,000 people still driving with 12 points on their licences. 
  6. Between 2010 and 2015 convictions from speed cameras have risen by 43%.

Campaigners claim that road safety is under control but the latest figures don’t bear this out. KSIs (Killed and Serious Injuries) show fatalities are up by 3% and serious injuries down by 2% in 2015. Overall casualty rates have flat lined since 2010. Given the wide proliferation of road camera technology across the country and the rise in convictions you’d expect to see a bigger statistical downward movement in the number of KSIs but their effect to make our roads safer is starting to look questionable. I believe that in the rush to adopt new technology the traditional corner stones of road safety – enforcement, education and engineering – are being ignored. We simply don’t do enough to educate drivers or engineer safer roads. The enforcement element of road safety has become too remote and technology-led.  

Traffic patrols are now so rare you can travel 100 miles without seeing a single police car. And if you really want to make drivers behave better, slow down and comply with motoring laws, then a cop car is the best deterrent we have. It’s mobile, highly visible and is a currency everyone understands.  Speed cameras don’t stop drunk, uninsured or dangerous drivers. Roadside breath tests have fallen by 200,000 since 2009, fixed penalties issued by the police for phone use at the wheel were down 43% in 2013/14 and the Motor Insurance Bureau say claims for accidents with uninsured drivers are up by 10% in the last 12-month period. And here’s the most telling statistic of all. In 2014/15 there were 394 convictions for death by dangerous driving - the highest number recorded since 2008. Looking at these figures we need to try harder with road safety.

But the speed enforcement industry grows and grows. Last year the police earned £54 million from speed awareness courses and one company who provides the courses turned over £44million. Ministers and civil servants continually bow to pressure from speed camera manufacturers and safety campaigners who claim that excess speed should be our most important road safety concern. To counter drastic cuts in road policing installing more cameras allow politicians and local authorities to tick the road safety box with a clear conscience. Yet the shift away from physical road policing hasn’t delivered the fall in accidents or improved road behaviour promised, it’s also disaffected a generation of drivers.  Last year in a survey by the Institute of Advanced Motorists 60% of respondents said that the use of speed cameras was motivated by fine revenue. If the law-abiding majority has lost faith in current road safety policies then it really is time for a re-think.

Some will say that the recent 2% increase in traffic is the reason why the latest figures have shown no improvement and that active and passive safety in cars, rather than cameras, have helped reduce occupant deaths and serious injuries.  But these most recent statistics show that police patrols are stopping fewer drivers, and that phone use, drink driving, dangerous and uninsured driving is on the rise. The current system of camera speed enforcement has become a multi-million pound industry involving blue chip companies like 3M, Siemens and Xerox. But all those resources and fine revenue to the Treasury and the police aren’t being used to catch the dangerous minority on our roads that represent the greatest threat to us all. This year van driver Christopher Gard killed a cyclist while texting at the wheel. Magistrates had allowed Gard to keep his licence despite six previous convictions for the same offence.  I believe this country’s road safety policies are all wrong and we badly need more police patrols, education and a reduction in accident black spots through improved road engineering. But we should begin with one simple change: if just some of the tens of millions raised every year in speeding fines and speed awareness courses was used to pay for more police traffic patrols, our roads would begin to feel considerably safer. 
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Quentin WIllson

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