Idris Francis says claims that speed cameras in Wales are effective are wildly overstated.
As the son of a Cardiganshire solicitor I was astonished to read in 2000 when I received my first speeding ticket triggered by a speed camera that the Right to Silence, ours for at least 400 years, had been removed in 1988 – from and only from drivers suspected of “minor” offences. The vital importance of this legal safeguard is of course that when authorities no longer have to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt but can instead impose higher penalties for refusing to admit guilt than for the supposed offence, no one is safe from arbitrary penalties or the perversion of justice.
On legal advice and later with the support of Liberty I subsequently refused to identify the driver of my car, deliberately to trigger an application to the ECHR. My case was accepted by the Grand Chamber, the highest level of the ECHR because they believed that it was arguable and because it was relevant to 300m drivers. I lost by 15:2 judges in July 2007 on the grounds that reducing road accidents trumps fundamental rights.
While waiting as the wheels of justice turned I set out to obtain and analyse details of tens of thousands accidents near cameras. Curiously, neither Liberty nor the ECHR were in the least interested in any assessment of whether cameras were effective or not, simply assuming that they were.
Since 2002 and particularly since 2011 when camera authorities were told to publish their data I have spent more than 10,000 hours analysing data and am now able to prove beyond rational doubt not only that speed cameras do not reduce accident rates to any sensibly quantifiable extent but also to identify and explain the many extraordinary – and unforgivable – errors made by analysts since 2001 that created the illusion of benefit where none existed.
When I read in September 2013 that Welsh Transport Minister Edwina Hart had asked to see evidence about the road safety benefits of speed cameras I wrote to offer to come to Cardiff at my own expense to show her or her colleagues that claims long made for cameras could not possibly be true and to explain the errors involved. Following some resistance I attended that meeting on December 2nd 2013 with a fellow campaigner, a senior aerospace safety engineer. Our impression was that our evidence and arguments had been well received and understood – but nothing changed.
Late in 2014, when my analysis had made significant progress I asked Ms. Hart’s office yet again what was happening and was told about an invitation to tender for “an independent academic report” on camera effectiveness to be published in May. In the event and for no reason I have been given other than translation into Welsh it did not appear on the GoSafe web site until November 2015.
I read it with mounting astonishment for these reasons amongst others, some of which I established when I protested about the document and its findings:
Far from being written by an independent academic it had been written by a statistician at Data Unit Wales, whose website describes its close relationship with Welsh Government departments.
The remit given was that an existing – and flawed – method of analysis by a London academic should be applied to Welsh data without deviation.
GoSafe had provided the approval date of each site but claimed to be unable to provide the (clearly much more significant) date on which each had became operational (very odd, given that l had obtained them under Freedom of Information 2 years or so earlier!).
The report’s estimates of camera benefit carried such wide confidence intervals – of the order of 40% fewer accidents to 10% more – that they were effectively meaningless.
The analysis, while explaining the deficiencies of the data that had been supplied, chose nevertheless to claim that there was “evidence of camera benefit”, leading to another academic long-experienced in these matters to state publicly that “It seemed to me that the executive summary appreciably exaggerated the strength of the findings, and the statements there were not supported by the detailed results inside the report. I was quite concerned about that, and felt that the findings were being massaged.”
I therefore contacted Ms. Hart several times to offer again to come to Cardiff to explain why these claims could not possibly be justified and that my own analysis shows clearly that accident trends near these cameras deteriorate rather than improve following installation.
It has become clear that no one in these closely-linked organisations has any intention whatever of reassessing those claims or listening for a moment to what I have to say. I consider it totally unacceptable that some £5m per annum of taxpayers’ money is being contributed to GoSafe on the say-so of officials who are not prepared even to look at evidence that the money is at best being wasted and at worst being spent to cause more accidents than would otherwise happen.