Recent changes in the way that fixed-point safety cameras are funded have prompted local authorities to consider whether or not they are little more than ‘cash cows’ aimed at inflicting a ‘stealth tax’ on motorists, or a significant contributor to the reducing the numbers of people who have been killed or injured on the UK’s roads
Current Department for Transport (DfT) 2007 statistics suggest that the UK is achieving EU 2010 road safety casualty statistics targets in most areas. However, the increases in collisions involving pedestrians, motorcyclists and young drivers (particularly males) detract from the wider achievements and give considerable cause for concern. Inappropriate speed is a recurring factor and a major contributor in road deaths and serious injury casualties. Other contributory factors such as driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, reduced use of mandatory safety devices such as seatbelts, and dangerous or inappropriate driving behaviour, mean that the environment within which road safety professionals have to operate is both complex and diverse. Further to the associated costs incurred through trauma treatment and recovery, there are significant cost implications to UK PLC through traffic disruptions and congestion.
Improving road safety has traditionally focused on three fundamental areas – ‘education’, ‘engineering’ and ‘enforcement’ – therefore this appears to be an opportune moment to present an objective assessment on a range of available enforcement technologies. Whilst ITS (UK) appreciates it has minimal skills in the first area and that other organisations are better placed to act in this area, it can comment authoritatively on the other two areas, i.e. enforcement and the technology-related aspects of engineering.
Use of UK roads
The report ‘Towards Better Transport’ published by the think-tank ‘Policy Exchange’, in association with Serco and Bevan Brittan LLP, identifies that the UK has the most crowded and congested roads, the fewest motorways and some of the worst public transport amongst the leading industrialised countries. Each year, more than 1.6M person kilometres are travelled on each kilometre of Britain’s road network; more than twice the European average. Increased traffic flows require efficient and robust procedures to cope with the ‘engineering’ and ‘enforcement’ demands that ITS (UK) considers are critical to aiding casualty reduction targets. It is also clear that technological solutions are not the only tool to achieve the government’s targets; to be most effective they need to be integrated within a broader package of road safety improvement measures. There has been a continuous escalation in the numbers of vehicles occupying the finite road network (approximately 33 million UK registered vehicles) further complicated by the added frequency of their use (15 per cent increase since 1994-98 baseline average by road type). Significantly this increase coincided with a commensurate 11 per cent reduction throughout the UK police service of dedicated roads policing resources. This reduction came about as a consequence of a realignment of core policing functions, and although this is being redressed it has necessitated an increased reliance on the Highways Agency’s Traffic Officer Service.
The traditional definition of ‘engineering’ is naturally linked to improving the road infrastructure itself. However, ITS (UK) proposes this definition can be broadened to include the ‘technological’ aspects of engineering encompassing both roadside and in vehicle safety devices. ‘Enforcement’ as the reactive response to offences being committed is increasingly reliant on camera-based technology that records the evidential details of what has taken place. This sequentially involves the accurate detection and interpretation of a vehicle’s registration mark and consultation with the DVLA database to determine the identities of offending drivers and/or passengers. Whilst the threat of prosecution remains a deterrent for the majority of drivers, an increasing minority consider themselves to be effectively immune. If this is considered in conjunction with reduced roads policing resources, the need for ITS enforcement technologies becomes ever more important. Minor offences that remain undetected ‘open the door’ to a whole myriad of other, more serious offences such as reckless/dangerous/careless driving, disqualified driving, no driving licence, no insurance, no MOT test certificate, etc. Individually these are important offences, however, this is aggravated by anecdotal evidence that suggests that persistent criminals commit numerous road traffic offences as a matter of routine.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is a proven technology and has been used to great effect, however, the Public Accounts Committee report (2007) suggests that there is increasing Vehicle Excise Duty evasion through deliberately misrepresented plates that undermine the technology’s effectiveness. DVLA records are currently insufficiently accurate to identify and prosecute all offenders; a situation exacerbated by substantial increases in foreign registered vehicles of all types using the UK’s roads. At the present time, there are no effective enforcement mechanisms for the drivers/operators of these vehicles other than police officers initiating interviews at the roadside.
The right skills
Not all drivers have intuitive or instinctive motoring skills nor possess a ready understanding, acceptance and adoption of technological complexities that may be demanded on rare occasions under exceptional situations. Considerable studies have been conducted into the ‘Human-Machine Interface’ to investigate and avoid driver ‘information overload’. As a consequence the introduction of any new system that enhances any contribution to safer journeys should be supported. However the previously registered concerns and reservations must acknowledge there is a limited human interest, enthusiasm and intention to maintain, upgrade and monitor ‘on-board’ equipment to its highest standard and therefore compliance regimes are required.
The recent EU ‘PReVENT’ project exhibition showcased a range of intelligent technologies to enhance journey safety and security and capitalised on the cumulative expertise and comprehensive capabilities needed to help achieve the EU’s 2010 casualty reduction targets. Generically these technologies incorporated lane deviation, vehicle proximity, collision avoidance and ADAS, and in certain instances these systems were sufficiently ‘intelligent’ to prioritise and provoke the vehicle to respond to the most significant threat. As its title suggests the PReVENT technologies anticipate road conditions and circumstances as well as monitoring driver actions and reactions and advise on impending incidents. In critical situations, the systems can ‘assume vehicle control’ and take avoiding and/or mitigating action. ‘Assuming vehicle control’ at certain critical times presents an interesting proposition as this could enable a driver to offer a legitimate defence in any court proceedings by arguing that control was ‘wrested’ from him/her thereby preventing a wholly different and deliberate reaction. Furthermore, there are concerns that sophisticated technologies may further insulate drivers from the ‘driving experience’ and compound driver inattention ‘behind the wheel’ through increased distraction from a variety of ‘infotainment’ devices.
Current indemnities may prove inadequate, especially where a particular technology assumes a ‘guardian angel’ role, such as the one that a particular PReVENT technology proposes. A balance has to be struck between the roles and responsibilities of vehicle manufacturing/OEM industry and what government agencies can achieve. For example is it reasonable to legislate which safety equipment should be fitted as standard equipment to new vehicles, or should it solely be left to market forces? In terms of the safety of commercial vehicle transport, there are technological measures that can ensure road user safety such as a further roll-out of WASP/VIPER ‘weigh-in-motion’ systems, enforcement of driving and resting times using digital tachograph systems, and ensuring that ‘haulier offences’ that are committed in one Member State can be taken into account in the ‘home’ country when issuing, renewing or revoking operator licenses, etc. The latter is currently being examined in a new EU-funded project called TUNER. Such measures would reduce the numbers of unqualified drivers and disreputable operators on the road and would have a marked impact on the numbers of unroadworthy vehicles on the UK’s road network.
Enforcement is traditionally unpopular and technologies that aim to impose driver moderation through ‘spot camera’ enforcement at specific locations are particularly resented. However, the siting of those fixed and mobile cameras has been based purely upon a proven excess speed history associated with fatal or serious injury casualty statistics. This data renders those locations as prime locations for enforcement and as permanent staffing of those locations is not sustainable remote technological interventions have been introduced to considerable effect to reduce collisions and injuries. In conclusion compliance through enforcement has traditionally fallen within the police service’s remit however the sheer scale of road usage means that the requirement to detect the vast majority of offences must fall upon the use of modern electronic technologies that are inherently more efficient than previous methods of road traffic offence enforcement.
ITS (UK) has taken a specific interest in this subject in recent years and is celebrating its 10th Annual Enforcement Conference in October this year. In addition ITS (UK) is currently organising the first of a series of interactive workshops with enforcement as the theme for the inaugural session. ITS (UK) considers itself ideally placed to provide independent expert advice into the effectiveness of ITS technologies for enforcement.
This article is an abridged extract of a detailed briefing note that highlights existing road safety problems and dilemmas whilst proposing current and future technological solutions that may assist. The title is ‘Traffic Law Enforcement Technology in the UK’ - A short guide to current practice, policy options, and related approaches to using enforcement technology in the UK - February 2009. Anyone interested in reading the full document request should contact firstname.lastname@example.org