Do cameras make our roads safer?

Speed cameras, or safety cameras as they are now often called, seem to have been rarely out of the news over the past few months. At the centre of much of this coverage was the decision by Oxfordshire Country Council to turn all 72 of its cameras off in August 2010, claiming funding for the devices was withdrawn following budget cuts. With the rise in insurance costs is this a wise move?

The Bichester Advertiser reported a week after the cameras were turned off that just two per cent of the 800 drivers it tested in a speed check were exceeding the 30mph limit. Chief Inspector Gill Wootton, Thames Valley Polices head of roads policing, commented on the results by saying: The majority of drivers do stick to the speed limit for the road they’re travelling on. A separate report on the BBC said safety groups believed speeding in the area had increased by 88 per cent since the switch off. But in a twist to the tale, Oxfordshire County Council and Thames Valley Police are now working on a plan, which will allow the safety cameras to be turned back on. The decision to reinstate the safety devices was made at a meeting on November 2nd.A spokesperson for the police force said: Speed continues to be one of the main risk factors on the roads, and the safety cameras form an important of tackling driver behaviour.

The move has also been welcomed by RoadSafe, which described the news as excellent for all law abiding drivers. It added that in October it conducted research, which contributes to a growing number of studies about the effect of speed cameras, which it claims uses collision records dating back to the 1990s and determined speed cameras do play a role in reducing accidents. Research, reported by road safety charity Brake using Department of Transport figures, also suggested the safety devices could be effective in cutting speeds. A four year national evaluation of speed conducted in 2005 found a 70 per cent reduction in speeds at sites with fixed cameras. But now authorities are looking at introducing cameras on the UKs roads, which will do much more than register a drivers speed.

The system, known as Asset, is currently being developed in Finland and will be capable of detecting five different offences. When it is rolled out across Europe in 2013, it will be able to read a drivers speed, calculate difference to spot tailgating, see if the driver is wearing a seatbelt and identify vehicles without a tax disc or insurance. Speed Cameras Dot Org, a campaign organisation, said that it cautiously welcomed the technology, but added: The main actions that cause the most accidents, namely not paying attention to the road, misjudging distances and other drivers intentions, cannot be detected by a device of any sort. Matti Kutila, a senior researcher at the facility where the cameras are being developed, highlighted that the cameras are designed to work in conjunction with traffic police but whether the motoring community will be equally as welcoming of these cameras remains to be seen.

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