Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Ninth Report


48. In the short term enforcement is the most effective means of reducing speeds. Witnesses stressed three key elements:

- the National Safety Camera Scheme;

- traditional road traffic policing; and

- appropriate penalties for offenders.


49. Cameras have been successfully used to enforce speed limits in the UK since 1991.[82] A Home Office study published in 1996 showed a 28% reduction in accidents at speed camera sites. However, the cost of purchasing and operating them fell entirely on police and local authorities, which restricted their use.

50. To overcome this problem, the Government decided in 1998 that fixed penalty fine income from speed and red traffic light cameras could be used (netted off is the expression usually employed) to pay for additional camera deployment and usage. In April 2000, the scheme began in eight pilot police force areas. In each area partnerships were established involving police authorities, local authorities, magistrates, health authorities and others.[83]

51. The pilot projects have been very effective. There have been much larger decreases in casualties in the pilot areas than in the country as a whole. The ACPO memorandum describes the remarkable results. In the first year there were 35% fewer collisions and 47% fewer people were killed or seriously injured at the camera sites.[84] The results in Northamptonshire were spectacular: in 2001 accidents fell at fixed camera sites by 50 per cent and the number of people killed and seriously injured by 67 per cent; in the whole county there was a 30 per cent reduction in the number killed and seriously injured compared with the 1994 to 1998 average. The cost of the scheme was £10m (all met by offenders via fine revenue); DTLR estimated that £27m had been saved by the reduction of fatal and serious casualties at these sites.[85]

52. A few witnesses, in particular, the RAC and the Association of British Drivers are very critical of enforcement policy, and the "exponential growth in the numbers of speed cameras". The RAC informed us that "there is a widespread and growing perception amongst motorists and sections of the press that camera deployment is motivated by revenue raising capacity", although it added that "the view may not be correct". On the other hand, several other witnesses argued that public opinion strongly supported the scheme. ACPO informed us that although a section of the national press strongly opposed the safety camera scheme:

"There is a wealth of information available to show that the public do in fact support the use of safety cameras....Over 80% of drivers believe that cameras encourage drivers to keep to the limits, and 70% agree that cameras reduce collisions. Direct Line Insurance carried out independent research at the same time. Their results confirm significant public support".

The research carried out for Direct Line by MORI in 2001 found that 69% of motorists believed that speed cameras had a positive impact on reducing the number of road traffic accidents. 68% of those asked favoured locating speed cameras around schools and 64% favoured cameras being used more extensively at accident blackspots. Surveys of local residents in Northamptonshire and Nottingham carried out in 2000 came to very similar results about speeding and the popularity of cameras with local people.[86]

53. In August 2001 the Government decided to extend the camera scheme to the whole country. In October 2001 seven new partnerships based on police force areas were accepted into the scheme. Ten areas were approved to start in April 2002. Thus 25 of the 43 police areas have joined the scheme, and it will continue to be extended.[87] ACPO expects that all police areas will have joined the scheme within two years.[88] The Minister told us that although the scheme was not currently mandatory, it would be reviewed to see whether this was necessary.[89]

54. In the initial pilot areas, authorities had considerable discretion over the location of cameras. In Northamptonshire cameras have been used at "locations where there is public concern about the speed of vehicles but not necessarily a serious accident problem". The TRL supported this approach. Several witnesses argued that the Government should permit this approach to be extended to enable cameras to be used where speeding seriously affected the quality of life and had indirect as well as direct effects on health, for example where communities were severed by major urban roads.[90] ACPO was sympathetic to this approach and recommended "that the concept of environmental enforcement of speed limits receives serious consideration".[91]

Guidance in respect of the visibility and location of cameras

55. As the scheme became national, rules on the visibility of cameras and criteria for their location were announced by the Government.[92] Rather than allowing cameras to be employed at a wider range of sites, they restricted where and how they might be employed. Three aspects of the rules attracted particular attention, namely:

- the cameras were to be located where there was a history of casualties (cameras should only be sited at locations with four killed or seriously injured accidents or eight personal injury accidents in the last three years);

- the camera sites were to be well-signed; and

- the camera housings were to be painted yellow.[93]

The decision was taken by the Safety Project Camera Board which included officials from the DTLR, Home Office other departments and organisations, but not the Department of Health.[94] As a result of the new rules, cameras may have to be removed from sites where they were placed during the pilot project.

56. The majority of those who submitted evidence to the inquiry were very critical of the new rules. Among the critics were academic experts, including the Transport Research Laboratory, health professionals, local authorities and road safety groups. The President of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians informed us:

"I am writing to response to the rules to increase the visibility of speed cameras that were announced on 3 December (2001). We are concerned they appear to give the message that DTLR is only concerned about excess traffic speed in the small number of locations where there have been several deaths or serious injuries from collisions. The emphasis on conspicuity could even give the impression that motorists need only restrict their speed when they are approaching a brightly coloured traffic camera".[95]

Transport 2000 stated:

"The requirement that all speed cameras in areas covered by safety camera partnerships must be signed and painted bright yellow seems to us akin to telling burglars that they will only be arrested in areas where signs announce the presence of police patrols. Elsewhere, motorists (or burglars) will be free to break the law".[96]

57. It was argued that:

- many casualties are not clustered at black-spots but occur along the whole road; cameras should be located to take this into account; in particular, as the Government noted: "accidents to walkers and cyclists do not tend to 'cluster' in identifiable hotspots";[97]

- the new rules imply that speeding is acceptable away from the camera sites

- when the cameras are visible and well-signed, drivers tend to slow down when they see them and then speed up again

- the new rules were not based on a proper scientific analysis of the evidence or any assessment of the consequences of this decision; Mr Brunstrom of ACPO told us: "There is no research evidence to say that yellow cameras work better than ones that are not; nor is there any to show that they do not".[98] TRL agreed, stating that "there is no evidence that painting cameras yellow will reduce accidents".[99]

- the evidence from Victoria in Australia shows that many more lives "are saved by covert rather than overt cameras".[100]

- the new rules encourage authorities to react to deaths and injuries, rather than produce a thoughtful preventative strategy: people have to be killed or injured for a camera to be installed.

58. The DTLR justified the decision on the grounds that:

- overt cameras were more likely to modify drivers' behaviour; and

- it was important to retain public support, and there was strong public opposition to covert cameras.

Ministers agreed, however, that no 'scientific calculation' had been undertaken to see whether covert or overt cameras were more effective.[101]

59. In evidence, the DTLR indicated that some preventative use of cameras should be permitted in areas where changing circumstances pose an increases risk of accident.[102] Guidelines should allow local decisions to be taken to site cameras in locations where such a risk has been identified.

60. Effective enforcement saves lives. In the pilot project areas the Safety Camera Scheme has been very successful, bringing about a big reduction in crashes and casualties. ACPO expects that all police force areas will be part of the scheme within two years. If police force areas have not joined the Safety Camera Scheme by the end of 2004, the Government should consider making it mandatory.

61. Unfortunately, it is likely that the Scheme has been made much less effective because the Government has changed the rules which apply to cameras: it has insisted that they were painted yellow with more signs to warn motorists of them, and severely restricted where they could be used. The new rules about the visibility and location of cameras are unreasonable. Crashes do not just occur at accident blackspots. There was no scientific research to support this decision. People will die as a result. Police and local authorities should decide where to locate cameras and whether they should be visible. Their decisions should informed by pilot projects to [1] test whether safety cameras should be overt or covert and [2] identify a series of locations other than severe accident blackspots where the speed of traffic needs to be reduced. The Department of Health should be on the Project Board for the Safety Camera Scheme to ensure that public health issues are fully taken into account in the decisions it makes.


62. In recent years there has been a significant reduction in the numbers of traffic police. ACPO noted that "traffic police numbers (as defined by HMIC) appear to have dropped by some 11%" between 1996-7 and 200-01.[103] The national changes mask very differing pictures in different authorities. In some areas, the reduction in police numbers has been much more than 11%: the Metropolitan Police had 921.9 traffic police in 1996-7, but only 685.7 in 2000-01. This number was further, and severely reduced in 2002, albeit, we were assured, temporarily.[104]

63. ACPO justified the fall on the grounds that the greater use of cameras compensated for the loss of police numbers, as the increasing number of speeding offences dealt with by the police showed.[105] It admitted, however, that there was "a clear demand from the see more police officers out on public roads". This demand is not unreasonable. While cameras bring many benefits, they cannot do everything. They cannot be used to prevent inappropriate speed. They are of little use against the large number of unlicensed drivers in the country. Transport for London informed us that:

"A minority of drivers operate beyond the traffic regulations without being registered as the vehicle's owner, without tax or insurance and these drivers have a disproportionate number of crashes....In London, the Havering road safety group instigated a survey in October. With the help of local police cadets they stopped and checked 157 vehicles (in four hours, over two days) and found 48 with no road fund licence".[106]

There is now the technology to detect untaxed cars. In addition, in the future, Mr Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales, suggested that it would be possible to ensure compliance through digital cameras which could recognise faces, but this has important civil liberties implications. For the present action against unlicensed drivers requires, first and foremost, traffic police who stop motorists.[107] Safety cameras are of little use in catching or deterring drivers travelling at inappropriate speeds or unlicensed drivers. Moreover, cameras paid for under the scheme can only be used at severe accident blackspots. The Police must ensure that there are adequate numbers of traffic police to deter:

- inappropriate speed;

- unlicensed drivers; and

- drivers who speed at places away from the accident blackspots where camera will be located.

There should be no further reduction in the numbers of traffic police.


64. The sanction for speeding is in two parts: fines and the risk of disqualification. Speeding offences detected by police action and by cameras can be dealt with by way of fixed penalty. A fixed penalty involves payment of £60 and three endorsement points.[108] For those convicted of speeding, as ACPO notes, the level of fine is more or less irrelevant, but the threat of disqualification is a real deterrent.[109] Surveys undertaken for the AA support this contention. There are more severe penalties for those convicted of careless or dangerous driving; excessive speed is the most common element among dangerous driving cases.[110] Dangerous driving can carry a prison sentence, but this is usually only given when a death has occurred.[111]

65. Witnesses argued that current penalties for speeding, as well as for other road traffic offences, are inadequate,[112] and in particular:

- penalties for speeding should be higher, and judges and magistrates did not adequately use the penalties available to them;[113]

- there were particular problems in deterring unlicensed and disqualified drivers.

66. The Government has recognised that there is a problem. The Road Safety Strategy in March 2000 stated that the Government was:

"Undertaking an urgent review led by the Home Office of penalties for road traffic offences".

The Consultation Paper (Road Traffic Penalties) was issued in December 2000.[114] The review proposed (Proposal 18) that a new fixed penalty system for speeding offences should provide for two levels of fixed penalty with a higher level of points awarded to those exceeding the limit by a wide margin. The higher tier of fixed penalty includes a fine of £90 and an endorsement more than double the standard number of points".[115] Responses were sought by March 2001.[116] Unfortunately, to date there has been no further announcement. The Home Office memorandum claimed that because there were over 1,000 responses it has taken a long time to consider them. We note that the 13,000 responses to the Planning Green Paper were analysed in under two months.

67. While several of our witnesses called for stronger measures;[117] most wanted the speedy implementation of the proposals in the Consultation Paper as a first step to improving the present situation. ACPO strongly supported Proposal 18. Existing penalties for speeding are inadequate. The Home Office's dilatoriness in implementing the proposals in its Consultation Paper on road traffic penalties issued in 18 months ago is unacceptable. We recommend that the proposals in the Consultation Paper be implemented without delay. There should be legislation in the next session of Parliament.

68. The worst offenders have a disproportionate effect on casualties.[118] There is a concern that magistrates are too often unwilling to give heavier sentences to serious offenders, and, in particular a reluctance to disqualify drivers. Magistrates are able to exercise "special reasons not to disqualify". We were informed that this power is not being exercised consistently, and that serial offenders are escaping disqualification.[119] We recommend that the Home Office and Lord Chancellor's Department issue clearer guidance about the use of magistrates' discretion in "exercising special reasons not to disqualify".

82   DTLR (RTS 49). Back

83   Details of the scheme are described in Annex 5 of the DTLR memo (RTS 49) and Annex 3 of the ACPO memo (RTS 137). The memorandum from Northamptonshire emphasised the importance of partnerships.  Back

84   RTS 49. Back

85   ACPO (RTS 137).  Back

86   The survey in Northamptonshire was carried out by MORI; in Nottingham the council conducted its own opinion survey (Appendix 1 to RTS 9).  Back

87   DTLR. Back

88   RTS 137. Back

89   Q410. Back

90   The Faculty of Public Health Medicine told us:"The inevitable conclusion drawn by many public health professionals is that there is a very strong case for more widespread introduction of lower speed limits, particularly in deprived urban areas, allied to broader and stricter enforcement..." RTS 4. Back

91   RTS 137. Back

92   DTLR (RTS 49). Back

93   DTLR Annex 5 (RTS 49). Back

94   Q496, Q540 (RTS 49). Back

95   RTS 4. Back

96   Transport 2000 (RTS 8); Nottingham City Council compared the recent Government approach to "instructing under-cover drugs squad officers to always wear a police badge" (RTS 9). Back

97   Tomorrows roads, p 42. Back

98   Q61. Back

99   RTS 27. Back

100   Nottingham City Council discusses the evidence from Victoria (RTS 9).  Back

101   QQ 402-3; Q498-505.Cameras used by those forces outside the 'netting office' scheme are not yellow, adding to confusion. Q402. Back

102   QQ 362-3. Back

103   ACPO Annex 4 (RTS 137); ACPO added that due to inconsistencies in counting rules and definitions this figure is not robust and cannot be firmly relied upon. Back

104   See the Metropolitan Police's memo (RTS 154). Back

105   Q35, and see Q31. Back

106   RTS 24. Back

107   Q 67. Back

108   In court the maximum penalties available are a fine of £1,000, for speeding on a motorway £2,500, three to nine points, disqualification, and a requirement to take a fresh driving test. The penalties are described in Road Traffic Penalties, A Consultation Paper, December 2000, pp. 22-5. Back

109   A report commissioned by the AA found that fines were considered too low and ineffective by the participants (see RTS 14).  Back

110   TRL (RTS 27).  Back

111   Brake (RTS 50). Back

112   RTS 34. Back

113   RTS 34. Back

114   Road Traffic Penalties, A Consultation Paper, December 2000. Back

115   See Annex4, DTLR memo (RTS 49). Back

116   The Home office stated: "Any changes to penalties arising as a result of this consultation exercise would be introduced in appropriate legislation at the earliest opportunity" (RTS 44). Back

117   Brake was very concerned that speeding was dealt with under the fixed penalty system since "speeding is not only serious, it also threatens and costs lives". The organisation argued that "speeding is included in the fixed penalty system not because it is a minor offence (which clearly it is not), but because of the sheer numbers of offenders, and the burden it would place on the legal system if these offences were dealt with by the courts". It called for fines of at least £1,000 for speeding along with prison sentences and loss of licences, depending on the severity of the offences (RTS 50). Back

118   Stradling: Changing Driver Attitude and Behaviour, DETR, Speed Review Seminar Proceedings; and see Road Traffic Penalties: A Consultation Paper, Dec 2000, para 10.28. Back

119   PACTS (RTS 14). Back

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