Speed cameras unfair and unjust
On the 30th March 2007 I was found guilty of speeding at 36mph in a 30mph limit, having driven past a speed camera. Unfortunately however this brought my total of points to 12 in three years, even though I had just 6 weeks to go until three of those points dropped off my license. I consequently lost my license for a period of 6 months, even though I had explained that this would impact seriously upon my ability to serve my constituents. I therefore appealed against that sentence.
That appeal has been unsuccessful. However it has given me a further opportunity to highlight what I consider to be a harmful, unfair and unjust method of enforcing the law in this country and I do so for four main reasons.
The first is that I believe that cameras are placed in many sites not to reduce accidents but to raise revenue and I have stated that view on many occasions and in many meetings.
Secondly, I believe that cameras may even cause accidents and could therefore endanger road users rather than safeguarding them.
Thirdly, I believe that the level of justice they engender is, as it is applied across the country, so inconsistent and unfair as to bring the system itself into disrepute.
Finally I believe that the use of speed cameras has given an excuse to our police forces to reduce the number traffic policemen on our roads, thus allowing more dangerous traffic crimes to go undetected and the number of uninsured vehicles to increase.
Now let me give you some facts to support those assertions:
Department of Transport (DTI) figures show that only 5% of all accidents where injuries occur have speed as a factor.
The DTI maintain that cameras save 25 lives per year. However no research has been undertaken into accidents caused by panic braking just prior to the area a camera covers or indeed to accidents caused in the speed-up zone after a camera has been passed, although estimates suggest that the number of deaths caused in these two areas could actually be as high as 1000 lives per year, according to the SafeSpeed Road Safety campaign. Motorists’ chances of being prosecuted after being photographed vary dramatically throughout the country according to where they speed. If you are caught speeding in London you only have a 48% chance of being prosecuted whilst if you are caught in West Yorkshire your chances rise to 100%. In Northamptonshire, you have an 81% chance of being prosecuted. This diversity creates a ‘prosecution lottery,’ which brings the law into disrepute and makes a mockery of justice.
The Commons Transport Select Committee in October 2006, highlighted the fall in the number of specialist traffic police as a major problem, claiming that the numbers fell by up to two thirds between 1996 and 1998 and by a further fifth between 1998 and 2004. Many ascribe the fall in prosecutions for serious driving offences as a result of this trend. Others include the estimated increase in the number of vehicles being driven by untested or uninsured drivers to be a direct result of reduced traffic policing, brought about by increased reliance upon speed cameras.
The Department of Transport’s annual survey of vehicle speeds show that over 50% of motorists regularly break the speed limit. However SafeSpeed Road Safety Campaign maintains that the vast majority of speeding offences are carried out by drivers who will never be involved in an accident caused by excessive speed and certainly will not be involved in an accident that causes injury.
Researchers from the University of Oxford found that motorists can drive up to 15mph over the speed limit before they are flashed by a speed camera in some areas, whilst in other areas they can be flashed even though they are only exceeding the speed limit by just over 3mph, adding further to the concept of a ‘lottery’ with regard to this aspect of the law in the UK.
The road safety group, BRAKE, revealed that most Police Officers escape fines for speeding, despite official figures that show they triggered cameras 45,741 times last year. However the true figure is likely to be sizeably higher because many police forces only released partial figures and nine constabularies refused to release any figures whatsoever. One of the forces who refused to disclose figures was the Northamptonshire County Constabulary.
Inconsistency of sentencing is a further cause of concern and was highlighted in Northamptonshire recently when British music impresario Sir Tim Rice, who was convicted of exceeding the speed limit by 11mph and given a three point penalty which raised his points total to 12, lost his license for a period of 28 days only, on the basis that his charity work ‘would not suffer too badly.’
I recognise that the law will take its course and I like everybody else will abide fully by any decision the court makes and indeed the fact that I am appealing underlines my adherence to the legal process. However it is true to say that high mileage drivers are, for a variety of reasons, more likely to ‘stack up’ a number of points on their license and indeed over 1.1 million people in the UK are now teetering on the brink of losing their licenses because they have garnered 9 points.
It is secondly fair to say that many drivers do not spend the whole time they are driving watching their speedometers and indeed it would be unsafe to do so. It is relatively easy on a safe road to inadvertently, marginally exceed the speed limit and many a driver has found themselves caught by a camera even though they have been travelling completely safely on a relatively traffic-free stretch of road. Indeed many motorists have told me they have noticed that mobile speed cameras are strategically placed in exactly such locations, seemingly to catch them out, irrespective of safety conditions.
I have already called for a fuller review of the use of speed cameras at County Hall and I will continue to raise the matter in Parliament. I believe that if speed cameras are to be used to enforce the law on our roads, the sole criteria for their siting should be safety and many people do not believe that to be the case at present.
Secondly the criteria should be nationally based and evenly applied throughout the country.
Thirdly sentencing should be reviewed and inconsistencies removed.
Finally police forces should not use cameras as a reason for reducing specialist traffic policing to the dangerous level we experience today.
I held the above views before I lost my license and I hold them just as firmly now. My appeal simply gives me the opportunity to voice them yet again and motivates me to continue to press for a fairer and more just system of law enforcement for vehicle drivers.