Magazine article The Spectator

Enough Is Enough

Magazine article The Spectator

Enough Is Enough

Article excerpt

If your day began with the unwelcome notification of a speeding fine and endorsement, you're in company with about 3,749 other drivers this morning. One in six motorists now have points on their licences, compared with one in ten five years ago. It's the speed cameras that do it, of course, and now the traditional GATSOs are being replaced by the new SPECs, a twin-eyed digital device that needs no film, measures your average speed over several miles, and can't be defeated by slowing as you come within range.

There are believed to be about 4,500 speed cameras in the UK, of which 1,000 were added last year. The government allegedly refuses to disclose the precise number. Why? What possible justification could there be for our elected representatives' refusal to disclose such information? Now the RAC Foundation and Autocar magazine have decided that enough is enough: the law, they say, is being brought into disrepute by such reliance on what the authorities like to call 'safety' cameras and within a predictable period virtually the entire motoring population will be turned into offenders. (Except, perhaps, police officers - of 419 Somerset policemen caught speeding last year, only one was prosecuted.) The two concerned bodies are launching a campaign for a different approach to speeding, based on education and training rather than punishment.

By April 2004 every police force except Durham will have speed cameras, many sited not in areas of greatest safety need but where speeding is most common (and - often - relatively safe). With the minimum £60 fixed-penalty, cameras already raise some £82 million a year, much of which is widely perceived as profit for the police. The RAC and Autocar quote research showing that 53 per cent of motorists are now unembarrassed to admit to points on their licences, while 48 per cent admit that they would not report anyone they saw sabotaging cameras. The latter figure is probably an underestimate of public reaction to this increasingly popular hobby. This criminalising of the population, say the campaigners (although speeding is not in fact a criminal offence), lessens respect not only for traffic law but also for all law, and that cannot be good.

Against this, the Safety Camera Partnership, a little-known body comprising the police, local authorities and the Highways Agency, argues that money raised is not for police profit but goes into other road-safety schemes, with any surplus going to the Treasury. This may be so, but if it means that money that would otherwise have been spent on safety schemes can be spent elsewhere, then fine revenue functions as tax revenue. …

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