Ministry of Justice figures indicate that the number of speeding fines issued to motorists has risen to its highest level in the last four years. The rollout of a new generation of digital speed cameras appears to be driving an upsurge that has come despite a lack of government funding.
When the Coalition came into power Philip Hammond, the then transport secretary, pledged to end the “war on the motorist” and ruled out funding additional speed cameras at the same time as cutting 40 per cent from the Road Safety Grant.
In the wake of this, a large number of cameras were switched off and in 2011 a study carried out by the consumer organisation Which? claimed that fewer than half of the approximately 3,000 speed cameras installed on English and Welsh roads were operational.
However, the BBC reports that 115,549 motorists in England and Wales were issued with fines of at least £100 by magistrates last year – the highest level since the Coalition came into power in 2010.
In Essex, speeding rose by 44 per cent last year, while in Avon and Somerset the number increased by 34 per cent. In six other police areas, the number handed out by magistrates rose by around a quarter. The figures do not include motorists who have settled by paying fines, or fixed penalty notices, or by taking a driving awareness course.
A 2010 report by Professor Richard Allsop of University College London for the RAC Foundation concluded that a national speed camera switch off would cost 800 lives a year.
It was also reported that road deaths in Oxforshire rose by 50 per cent in the first six months in which speed cameras were switched off compared to a similar period the year before. However, Thames Valley Police have since been able to switch them back on again by cutting the office costs of administering the cameras by 25 per cent. By raising the threshold below which speed awareness courses are offered, more revenue can be kept. This is because fines have to be paid to the Treasury while money raised by speed awareness courses does not.
However, advances in technology appear to be of even greater significance. Edmund King, the President of the AA, told The Telegraph that the rise in fines reflected the fact that cameras are more efficient than ever. “In the past, cameras in London, they would only take valid pictures for a quarter of a day and it was pot luck whether you were fined. The cameras are now working 24 hours a day.”
New digital cameras are being phased in across the country. As well as being constantly in operation, they are also much more efficient to run. While they cost up to £10,000 to install, police officers are not needed to collect and develop the film. Instead, information is automatically sent to a control centre. The car is identified from its number plate and a notice of intended prosecution is then sent out. Average speed cameras operating across long stretches of road are also becoming more common on major roads and motorways.
According to the MoJ figures, the number of speeding fines in England and Wales issued by magistrates initially fell from 114,279 in 2010 to 110,191 the following year. Since then, however, the number has gradually risen.