Speed camera cuts – the Swindon story

29 07 2010

Endangered of Oxfordshire

The last week has seen considerable media speculation over the future of Britain’s speed camera network.

Central government cuts to local authority road safety budgets have led Oxfordshire County Council to pull funding for the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership, which operates the county’s speed cameras.

The partnership says it cannot afford to operate the cameras as a consequence, and they are set to be switched off. Other councils are set to follow suit.

Road safety campaigners fear this could lead to an increase on deaths and collisions on the road. While national figures are inconclusive, the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership points to a 38 percent drop in vehicle collisions since its cameras were installed.

Swindon Borough Council was the first local authority in the country to pull funding for speed cameras last year – not due to national funding cuts, but because it felt the cameras were unnecessary. The six cameras, located at four sites, were switched off last July.

Statistics collated by Wiltshire Police and supplied by the council indicate there has been no increase in accidents as a result.

Here are the road accident figures for Swindon’s speed camera sites, from August 2008 to April 2009 when the cameras were operating, and then from August 2009 to April 2010 when the cameras were switched off:

A420
2008/09 – 2 slight                                           2009/10 – 2 slight
A4312 Oxford Road
2008/09 – 3 slight                                           2009/10 – 1 serious, 2 slight
A346 Chiseldon
2008/09 – 2 slight                                           2009/10 – 1 serious, 2 slight
A4259 Queens Drive
2008/09 – 1 fatal, 1 serious, 6 slight                 2009/10 – 6 slight

In the above table, ‘serious’ means that at least one person involved in the accident suffered a serious injury.

As can be seen, when the cameras were working there were 13 slight accidents, one serious and one fatal accident across the sites (15 in total), and after they were switched off there were 12 slight accidents and two serious accidents (14 in total).

So, no increase in accidents.

There’s a health warning to these figures, though. First, due to the small number of cameras that were operating, the council believes it will take up to two years before meaningful conclusions can be drawn.

Furthermore, as Inspector Andy Moreton of the Wiltshire & Swindon Safety Camera Partnership (which operated Swindon’s speed cameras until they were turned off) pointed out, the cameras have been switched off, but they haven’t actually been removed. They are covered in orange bags – but the signs and prominent road markings warning of the presence of speed cameras remain, and they are still picked up by most satnav systems.

Inspect Moreton (who was not expressing an opinion on Swindon’s decision to switch off the cameras) added that the cameras were mostly located on primary routes into and out of Swindon – so there’s a good chance many of the road users may not be Swindon locals, and so won’t be familiar with the decision to switch off the cameras.

The cameras will eventually be taken down and removed, and presumably the road markings will go as well. Arguably, only then will we be able to draw reliable conclusions.

But Swindon made its decision based on local data showing that only six percent of road accidents were caused by speeding – essentially, a decision based on local road safety statistics.

By contrast, council bosses are now basing their decisions on government funding cuts. We don’t yet know how likely it is this gamble will pay off. And neither do they.

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