Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Speed Cameras Cause Accidents?

The Daily Mail reports some very bogus-looking research on speed cameras.

This is based on a survey of 1532 drivers, and those drivers have blamed speed cameras for 1% of accidents. So this isn't trained accident investigators, or even police filling in a STATS19 form at the scene. This is (to some extent) people blaming anything but themselves for the consequences of their speeding. But anyway, apparently people drive erratically, brake suddenly and look at their speedometers when confronted by a speed camera. Curiously enough, it doesn't report the accidents that have been prevented by the fact that people slow down for speed cameras. Not that I would ever accuse the Mail of selective reporting or bias.

When driving, you have to monitor your instruments, your mirrors and the environment constantly. So the idea that when confronted by a speed camera you suddenly ignore the environment to concentrate exclusively on your speedometer is pretty strange. However, it is credible that people brake suddenly, and this could cause an accident. However, unless two cars are both considerably exceeding the speed limit and one is 'tailgating' the other, it is unlikely that the accident will be serious.

So what's the solution? Half the problem is that speed cameras are so obvious. If they were less detectable,  the problem of  sudden reactions to them would be lessened.

There's a very good case to be made for average speed cameras, because there is no need to react suddenly to an average speed camera: it allows you to slow down gradually without getting nicked. They have the additional advantage that people can't slow down for the camera and speed up again immediately afterwards.

The Coalition's approach to road safety doesn't involve either of these alternatives: its solution is to get rid of all speed cameras. Given that speed cameras are known to work (see my previous post), this is a little worrying, especially as they don't seem to have a Plan B.

My current theory is that the Coalition is trying to kill off some of the population by a combination of making the roads more dangerous, discouraging active travel and spending less on public health. However, they need to be more targeted: they need to kill off people who work in the public sector and the unemployed. They've not quite figured out how to do that yet.

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