Friday, March 17, 2006

Speed Camera Update

So. What exactly is going on with the government’s speed camera policy?

Back in December, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling sent out some good feeling vibes to the motoring public when he announced changes to way the cameras are funded. No longer will camera partnerships be allowed to use the revenue raised every time the flash bulb goes off to pay for more flash bulbs. Self-replicating stealth taxation coming to an end? The country rejoiced; anti-speed campaigners presumably muttered into their coffee.

Then, on 17 February. the Times reported that April 2007 sees the end of current regulations regarding camera usage.

This raises two main issues that motorists should be aware of.

Firstly, the cameras will no longer have to be painted yellow – leading to renewed concerns about subterfuge and camouflage. Safety campaigners – and the Times quotes Mary Williams, chief executive of Brake – claim this is beneficial because people only slow down briefly when they spot the little yellow lollypop, then speed up again once they’ve passed beyond the range of it’s beady little eye. Others point out the safety implications – if you can’t see it you can’t use it as an accident blackspot identifier. As the Times puts it:

Kevin Delaney, the head of road safety at the RAC Foundation, said: “We are concerned that some partnerships will conceal cameras and risk losing the trust of motorists. It makes sense for cameras to be yellow because it slows people down at accident blackspots.”

Secondly, the reasoning behind camera placement is also set to change. Currently regulations require collisions involving three deaths or serious injuries, plus three resulting in slight injuries, all within a kilometre and three years of the placement site. This is set to change – potentially allowing the partnerships to put cameras anywhere they see fit. While there may be a convincingly emotive argument for the placement of cameras in the vicinity of schools – as the Times has Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom putting it:

“Parents often write to us and ask us to put a camera outside a school because the traffic is so dangerous. It’s very difficult to write back and say, ‘Please let us know when your son is killed and then we can consider putting a camera there.’ ”

– there’s also an issue of presumption of guilt, and concerns that cameras will simply be placed where they will make the most money. Especially if they are chosen in lieu of other equally as effective measures, such as road humps and active limit signs that alert drivers when they are exceeding the legal speed.

A final, less than reassuring quote from the Times article:

A Department of Transport spokesman said: “Local authorities will have freedom to use cameras where appropriate and where they see fit. But we do not want to see a return to the bad old days of cameras being hidden behind trees. We are minded to use guidance to achieve this, but if authorities flout it we will consider regulation. If they want to paint cameras grey we will want to know why.”

Hmmm…

As a further update to this issue, and in the interests of fairness, I would like to point out that the Norfolk “Casualty Reduction Partnership” has already come out as saying their cameras will remain yellow. This decision has been taken on the basis that having them brightly coloured makes drivers more aware of their speed, according to the Norwich Evening News.

Relatedly, Tuesday’s Guardian, has more on Automatic Number Plate Recognition (APNR) cameras. In a front page article there is speculation that Britain is becoming ‘the most watched country in the world,’ as police look forward to using APNR to spot motorists speaking on mobile phones, or who aren’t wearing seatbelts. The actions of the woman pictured – in pretty much all of the press last week – applying her make-up during rush hour traffic only serves to support arguments for such surveillence.

Realistically, the technology isn’t good enough for that sort of thing yet. And any such attempt will doubtless be severely resisted – I mean, who on earth likes the idea of their every movement inside a motor vehicle being observed and analysed by squared-eyed operatives in a CCTV bunker? And I speak as someone who rarely does anything except drive when sat at the wheel.


What does this all mean? Basically, we’re stuck with the bloody things – it’s now just a question of exactly how much we let the government and tha camera partnerships get away with using them for. If we aren’t already the most observed nation on earth, I reckon we’re short odds on taking the title.



Links:

Go Slow: the police win the right to camouflage speed cameras @ timesonline

Speed cameras will stay yellow @ Norwich Evening News

Surveillance on drivers may be increased @ Guardian Unlimited

#18: "All speed, no limit...?" [internal]

#13: Camera Action [internal] lots of links on this one

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