A significant proportion of motorists think that cameras concentrate on raising money rather than improving road safety. Think again
Recently Swindon became the first town in the UK to announce that it would refuse to fund the fixed-point safety cameras following a change in the way that they are funded. As part of a wider investigation of council services, Northamptonshire is also considering studying whether cameras contribute to road safety.
“This is an area I know the public are very concerned about," said council leader Jim Harker. "There is evidence that people tend to react quickly to cameras and slow down sharply, creating hazards and possibly accidents. I know there have been concerns from the public and the RAC about them, and we will be reviewing it over the next few weeks."
Whilst the measures are not thought to affect static cameras the fleet of six mobile cameras may be reviewed with Mr Harker commenting: "If cameras are not there, we are already looking at a wide range of speed reduction measures”.
Bob Seery, the councillor responsible for transport, said that the authority was keen to learn from other councils "whose policies balance safety, without being viewed as unfairly punishing motorists". A spokesman for the RAC said: "This move will be seen as popular amongst motorists who view speed cameras as another form of tax on drivers.”
There is divided opinion over whether or not safety cameras are little more than ‘cash cows’ aimed at inflicting a ’stealth tax‘ on motorists or making a significant contribution to reducing the numbers of people who have been killed or injured on the UK’s roads. 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.
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 are critical to casualty reduction targets.
‘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 exacerbated by anecdotal evidence that suggests that persistent criminals commit numerous road traffic offences as a matter of routine.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition 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 to 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 these vehicles, other than stopping them at the roadside.
Casualty reducation targets
Casualty reduction targets provide important guidelines on the requirements to reduce death and serious injury collisions; in addition, they provide an insight into the impact of changing trends and allow road safety improvement efforts to be better targeted. ‘Tomorrow's Roads - Safer for Everyone’ published in March 2000 show that a quarter of all accidental deaths are the result of road crashes rising to 80 per cent of accidental deaths among young people aged 15-19. This may be attributed to those drivers, mainly male, who are driving vehicles beyond either their own personal or the vehicle’s capabilities, or both. DfT road casualty statistics (2007) reinforces this trend whilst simultaneously highlighting the vulnerability of motor cyclists and pedestrians. If deployed correctly, technology can be used to collate safety-related data which is invaluable to road safety professionals.
Various engineering and enforcement technologies options, such as Intelligent Speed Adaptation and Electronic Vehicle Identification can assist in reducing road casualties, however, their deployment has to be assessed in conjunction with the public support/antipathy/opposition that they may reasonably be expected to incur.
Enforcement is achieved through a diverse range of technologies and methodologies. Deployments range from local, isolated safety camera installations through to route- or city-wide deployments and large-scale back office operations. From an organisational perspective, much has been gained through the establishment of Road Safety Camera Partnerships. £110 million a year has been allocated to the new road safety camera funding arrangements to provide financial stability and facilitate long term planning over the period 2007/08 to 2010/11. However, the degree to which these arrangements will allow this progress to continue, whereby the current ‘ring-fencing’ of road safety camera funding has been terminated in favour of investing greater flexibility and accountability to local authorities, police and the other agencies involved in improving road safety, remains to be seen. Local strategies and decisions need to be well-founded and have taken account of the combined knowledge and expertise of all the agencies concerned.
Throughout the UK road safety cameras provoke emotive responses and animosity from road users who, in general terms, feel they are unfairly targeted. This has resulted in some drivers perceiving themselves as being persecuted by the police service whom they accuse of “seeking out ‘soft’ performance indicator targets”. This is an important issue as enforcement technologies are an established feature, therefore there is scope for a proactive education of road users about the purposes of enforcement rather than merely relying on responses to media challenges.
This whole debate needs to be considered within the context of enforcement methodologies, equipment, standards and techniques currently employed by various law enforcement agencies including those technologies deployed by and for the private sector industry. This issue is of fundamental importance to the ongoing use and public acceptability of enforcement technology, which now constitutes a permanent feature of the roads network infrastructure.
Reliable and volume enforcement capabilities are essential, and current and future technologies, such as ANPR and EVI, are providing a greater automated enforcement capability. The BERR Technology Strategy Board has recently funded a project that will provide the necessary research and development that will allow the integration of enforcement technology into the existing traffic signal infrastructure. This will potentially provide a more cost effective platform and ‘lock in’ the value of existing investment.
Stringent evidential recording requirements defined through Home Office guidance has enabled the acceptance of images and associated data from digital road safety camera equipment as evidence in the prosecution of road traffic law offences, greatly assisting criminal enforcement in the process. This is being increasingly supplemented by demands from Local Traffic Authorities (LTA) for civil enforcement that will meet the expectations of the Traffic Management Act to regulate traffic flow in urban bus lanes, red routes, box junction and ‘red light’ camera sites. Enforcement by LTAs is supported by commercial sector organisations; all of which contribute positively in reducing road casualties.
Enforcement has to be fair to all road users, regardless of where they live, work or where their vehicle is registered. The VERA Projects funded by the European Commission have shown that attempts to impose and enforce penalties on non-resident violators raise many legal, organisational and operational issues. Even where non-resident violators are prosecuted through a formal legal process, penalties can rarely be enforced. This is not just a UK problem – it is an issue all EU Member States have to address. In addition to the negative impacts on traffic safety, this contradicts the principles of equitable treatment of all European citizens as enshrined in the Treaty and is not sustainable in the long-term. Government support will be required for the pan-EU legislation necessary to address this.
Essential road repairs and maintenance have to be undertaken in extremely hazardous circumstances, therefore the balance between road workers safety and traffic free-flow has to be accurately judged. Prolonged road works require speed control to be managed and enforced to minimise the dangers and prevent deaths and injuries occurring. However, motorists’ common complaint is that “no work is being done” which leads to a general lack of compliance.
Rigorous enforcement is seen to be disproportionate and unfair therefore one of the means to reduce the dangers whilst managing the motorists ‘goodwill’ is to encourage all vehicles to reduce their speeds in those areas. ‘Spot’ camera prosecution is perceived as ‘unfair’ and akin to persecution of motorists whereas more intelligent camera deployment, using ‘average speed’ cameras and responsive ‘signing’ has proven to be effective and acceptable to motorists. Unlike ‘spot’ camera sites motorists recognise that they must moderate their speeds over a distance and ‘go with the flow’ literally and metaphorically. These installations are often supported by speed awareness signs that reinforce and advise offering a blend of enforcement and education. In much the same way ‘vehicle activated signs’ and ‘variable speed limits’ have proved their worth. For example there is a general recognition that slower but free-flowing travel on the M25 controlled sections and the M42 Active Traffic Management locations prevents frustration, avoids motorists ‘taking chances’ with the often tragic consequences and facilitates expectations of unhindered journeys through those areas.
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 fixed and mobile cameras has been based purely upon a proven excess speed history associated with fatal or serious injury casualty statistics, which renders those locations as prime locations for enforcement. 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.
This article is an extract from an ITS (UK) Enforcement Fact Sheet publication that highlights existing road safety problems and dilemmas whilst proposing current and future technological solutions that may assist.