Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Speed Cameras: a loss of perspective

The obsession with speed camera data continues with further announcements today on a central repository of information on the siting of cameras and on their 'effectiveness' .

The inclusion of data on speed cameras on the single data list was always highly questionable. Surely these are properly decisions to be taken by local authorities and police forces. Yet Government effectively requires the publication and then compilation of data on the siting of cameras. We all know that this responds to the visceral, irrational hatred of some motorists about having their ability to drive at whatever speed they choose curbed. The argument that cameras are used as cash cows covers this with a veneer of respectability. But lets leave that to one side.

The interesting point about the notion of effectiveness is that it is apparently to be gauged entirely in terms of the number of prosecutions, offences and penalties.

There is some sense in looking at numbers of offences. Clearly tooo it is important that cameras provide information that can be used to prosecute successfully. I hope that is the intention. But to be clearer it should really be examining the issue of whether prosecutions failed because of technical problems with siting or visibility or reliability.

That's all the more important because, of course, the real point of cameras is about compliance with speed limits and prevention of accidents. True effectiveness would be no prosecutions because drivers were actually obeying the law and sticking to the speed limit.

Hopefully we are not glimpsing the rather bizarre prospect of the effectiveness of cameras being judged by the numbers of people still driving too fast. Indeed, is a camera to be judged less effective if the numbers of prosecutions go down from one year to the next?

Its all passing strange. Perhaps just acknowledging that there is a need for enforcement of the law on speeding might be enough in other circumstances. Its hard to see the same debate about effectiveness going on about CCTV or other mechanisms which apparently can be deployed with impunity. But then it all depends on who are judged to be the victims and the perpetrators. In the case of speed cameras one can sometimes be forgiven for thinking that the main victims are those who are breaking the law.

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