Rethinking road safety

Yesterday at the Conservative party conference, Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers heavily criticised the use of speed cameras as a means to increase road safety. In fact the very premise that speed cameras were the optimum way to increase road safety was questioned, and Villiers pledged that a future Conservative government would not fund any new fixed speed cameras.


Commentators have already speculated that the policy is to score political points and win over motorists, a key constituency within the electorate for the next general election.  But the news will no doubt be welcomed by those motorists who dislike the relentless use of speed cameras, which have trebled over the last decade within Britain. It will also appeal to those motorists who view speed cameras as a source of revenue for the government, rather than a key mechanism to reduce speed and road accidents.


Politics aside, the policy is a step in the right direction, as the debate about the most effective means to increase road safety is finally being addressed. Theresa Villiers stated


“Labour’s army of speed cameras is not the best way to make our roads safer. We will switch to alternative, better, ways to improve road safety.” 


The alternatives suggested are improving driver education and the use of vehicle activated signs, which have proven effectiveness in reducing road traffic accidents. The ability to install new speed cameras will be made tougher, with local authorities having to prove that it is the best option from the alternatives. If new cameras are installed it will be funded entirely by local government, receiving no funds from central government’s road safety grant.


Another welcome measure is the scrapping of the speed quangos, otherwise known as Safety Camera Partnerships. Local authorities and police will return to a more “slimline” cooperation, removing bureaucracy from the process. This means that police can return to monitoring speeding through patrols. In the years preceding the use of speed cameras, police patrols were a key variable in the constant reduction in traffic accidents. After the introduction of speed cameras as the main method of increasing road safety, this reduction levelled off.


Also addressed was the problem of congestion, which incidentally also has a major impact on road safety, not to mention its impact on the environment and harm to the economy. Suggestions to tackle congestion included taking a tough line over road works; shortening the time it takes to re-open motorways after accidents occur; ensuring traffic lights do not stay on red for longer than necessary.


These are all welcome policy proposals, however the shadow transport minister could have been bolder and committed a future Conservative government to investing in improved road infrastructure. Studies indicate improved road standards would cut fatal and serious accidents by 20 per cent, as well as providing a platform for Britain to return to economic growth.

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