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Sunday Times today - End of speed cameras that save no lives


Councils will be forced by the government to publish accident figures from before and after speed cameras were installed

Speed cameras that fail to reduce accidents are to be switched off under a new government policy.

From next month, local authorities will be forced to reveal whether individual cameras are making any difference to safety on the stretch of road on which they are located or are simply generating revenue for the government. Ministers say they expect devices that are little more than money-spinners to be dismantled.

It follows mounting public anger over the huge sums being made by some speed cameras with little apparent impact on road safety. One notorious Gatso camera on the southbound M11 in Essex generates up to £1m a year. Motorists who regularly use that stretch of carriageway say they believe the machine is causing, rather than preventing, accidents as drivers brake suddenly to avoid the trap.

Ministers will tomorrow announce that councils must publish figures showing the numbers of accidents and casualties at camera sites before and after the machines were installed, so the public can see whether individual cameras are justified.

The new policy follows a government pledge to “end the war on the motorist”The Highways Agency will have to publish similar information about cameras on motorways.

Mike Penning, the road safety minister, said: “We want to stop motorists being used as cash cows. For too long information about speed cameras has been hidden in the shadows. These new data will end that by clearly showing whether a camera is saving lives or just making money.”

Councils will be expected to start publishing the information by July 20, and have been told to include annual collision and casualty data back to 1990, showing numbers of people killed and injured at each site.

They will also be forced to reveal how they decide where individual cameras are positioned; the number of prosecutions arising from each fixed camera in their area each year; and the number of offenders fined or taken to court. It will be the first time such data has been made publicly available across England.

Although ministers will not be able to force local authorities to switch off cameras that make no difference to road safety, they expect councils to act. “Once this information is out there, we expect councils to come under intense pressure from communities to shut certain cameras down, and we expect they will act on that,” said a Whitehall source.

The new policy follows a government pledge to “end the war on the motorist”. Oxfordshire switched off its speed cameras last year after the government cut local authorities’ funding for road safety by 40%, from £95m to £57m. In turn, Oxfordshire council cut its funding to the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership, which said it could therefore no longer afford to run Oxfordshire’s fixed cameras.

In April this year, Thames Valley Police switched Oxfordshire’s speed cameras back on. During the eight months the cameras were off there were 18 deaths on the roads in Oxfordshire — none at fixed camera sites — compared with 12 in the same period in the previous year. Speed cameras in other counties are still being switched off and the partnerships that run them closed.

Money generated by speed cameras goes direct to the Treasury, which redistributes some of it via the Department for Transport to local authorities. There are about 6,000 cameras across Britain, generating an estimated £100m a year.

The price of safety

The number of fixed speed cameras in England and Wales has risen from 48 in 1992 to 3,144 this year. There are a further 3,000 mobile speed cameras.

More than 1m motorists were fined and given penalty points in 2009, compared with 651,000 in 2000.

One of the most lucrative cameras is on a 30mph stretch of dual carriageway in Poole, Dorset. It was reported last year to be generating £1.3m a year.

From 1999 local camera partnerships were allowed to spend the fines. In 2007 the fines went direct to central government, which instead provided £110m a year to local authorities for road safety.