According to this news story, Swindon council are reviewing their funding arrangements for speed cameras. Apparently they’re not convinced that speed cameras are an effective aid to road safety.

It’s no great surprise, is it? Leaving aside the fact that it’s as possible to drive like a jerk within the speed limit as above it, speed cameras don’t slow traffic: they create a situation where people drive generally at the appropriate speed for the conditions, and brake sharply – often to well below the speed limit – at the camera site. They then speed up as soon as they’re past the camera.

If anyone doubts that cameras are just intended as revenue raisers, just ask yourself why so many of them are placed at the one point on a stretch of road where it’s possible to safely go a bit faster. For those of you who know Southampton, think of Millbrook Road westbound: you pass playing fields and a school, cross a flyover and a tricky junction (caused by poor design of the flyover) and then you come to the camera.

The best example of this is on the A303 near Warminster: you’ve been driving on single carriageway for miles, with blind bends and hilltops – in short you’ve had no chance to overtake. Then you come to a short dual carriageway stretch where it’s safe to speed up – and that’s where the speed camera is. Worse still, the camera is placed as you approach the end of the overtaking zone, just where NOT slowing down could well be the safer option.

I know that supporters of speed cameras say “if you’re not breaking the speed limit, you won’t get caught” and that’s true enough, but why are these the same people who insist “they’re not speed cameras, they’re safety cameras”? If they’re there to prevent speeding then fair enough, but at least call them by their proper name. And if they’re there for safety, put them where traffic needs to slow down, not where it could safely go a bit faster.

Speed cameras were originally supposed to only be placed where speed-related accidents have happened, but the enthusiasts have been too liberal with the definition of a speed-related accident: if an accident has involved a driver who was speeding, that’s counted – regardless of the fact that the true cause of the accident was the cyclist who didn’t stop at the red light, the pedestrian who walked out into the road without looking or the motorist who was inside the speed limit, but didn’t stop at the “give way” sign.

Speed cameras have their place, and traffic light cams are even better, but they’re not the cure-all that the road safety nazis would have us believe. And perhaps now Swindon have had the courage to challenge the sacred cow, other local authorities will follow suit and start implementing some proper road safety measures instead

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