We recently released a report that studied speed cameras and their impact on casualty rates. It has done much to re-open and stimulate the debate on how Britain approaches road safety. The report presents analysis which shows that since the implementation of speed cameras in 1992 - coupled with a one-dimensional focus on speed as the centre of road safety policy, road casualty rates have declined more slowly. A statistical test – the Chow test – confirmed that there is a statistically significant difference between the two periods and had the 1978 – 1990 trend continued to 2007 we would expect there to be over 1 million fewer casualties than actually occurred. The graph below illustrates this:
The actual casualty rate after 1991 has significantly changed its trajectory, leading to the conclusion that speed cameras have done little, if not hampered improvements in road casualty reduction. This is because speed enforcement and the intense focus on speed in road safety policy pushed other key factor to one side.
There are alternative road safety measures. Vehicle activated-signs have been described by Rob Gifford, the director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, as being “particularly effective on dangerous bends and on the approaches to villages.” Better measures to deal with drug and drink driving, good road engineering and focussing on improving driver education needs to all play their part in reducing casualties.
Swindon Borough Council is the prime example of an authority that have turned off their speed cameras and turned to other solutions for keeping their roads safe. They have experienced no rise in accident rates.
And since the release of our report other authorities are taking note. It has been reported that Oxfordshire, the whole of Wiltshire, some cameras in Northamptonshire and Somerset are switching off their cameras. Other counties like Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Suffolk and Derbyshire and the whole of Wales are seriously considering following suit.
Many local authorities are using the 40% cut in the road safety budget as their justification for turning off speed cameras. It’s telling that the reason cameras are coming down is because funding for central government has been revoked; clearly councils do not see them as their highest priority.
It is a shame that it takes a crisis in the public finances for us to consider how we best approach road safety. But at least the environment now exists where local government can concentrate on effective road safety measures and leave speed cameras by the road side.