Are speed cameras in Wales effective at reducing accidents?

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.

Idris Francis grew up in Llandysul and has a BSC in Engineering from Swansea University.

11 thoughts on “Are speed cameras in Wales effective at reducing accidents?

  1. Am I missing something here? If you go faster than the speed limit then you a breaking the law.Get over it!

  2. They are placed throughout the country at considerable cost based on a “business plan” The object of business is to make money after investment. They HAVE now to prosecute so many offenders per annum in order to make the investment viable. From their point of view they have to be shown to be effective. We all know what they say about statistics and truth. Business is business my boy.

  3. I am sure the author is right but as everyone probably realises it is not about safety or controlling speed, it is like parking, a not so stealthy tax and about raising significant revenue for councils and public sector jobs. As the author admits there is not a hope in hell that this will ever change or even be admitted.

  4. As a stealth tax this is one I don’t mind so much….
    Our councils need more money (also perhaps to spend it more efficiently). With yet more cuts to come and threats of further closures (I’m thinking of the local leisure centre and swimming pool for example), any ways of getting money to pay for them need to be looked at.
    If a driver is willing to speed past a camera then they are generously raising funds for the council, to pay for the facilites and services we all need. Think of it like a road toll, the road is free up to the speed limit but must be paid for after that.

  5. If an area has been designated worthy of a speed limit then there is by implication an elevated risk. If a high number of offenders are being picked up by cameras over the speed limit then clearly there is a problem that existing signage and road design is not effectively limiting. What is needed is a direct cause/effect linkage whereby the revenue generated at a particular spot is reinvested into traffic calming/signage etc at that same spot until the number of offenders falls below an acceptable level. At that point the camera is no longer required and should be redeployed. It is this improvement loop that is failing with LA’s happy to trouser the cash whilst leaving us at an elevated level of risk. That is indefensible and I wouldn’t rate the chances of any LA tested against a good barrister in the event of an accident in those circumstances.

  6. Speed cameras, like traffic calming measures and street furniture clutter, serve to take our eyes off the road ahead by focusing them down onto the dashboard or the few metres in front of the vehicle. Safe driving comes from long distance situational awareness so all these measures make driving more dangerous not less. Labs which use eye movement analysis show this over and over again. They also show that bi-lingual road signs are dangerous for basically the same reason.

  7. The age of the drone has already arrived.
    You can expect to be clocked by drone anywhere in Wales

  8. To David – it has been an important legal principle for a very long time indeed that it is not only our right but also our duty to challenge bad law – see and similar

    Monty is right, it is all about money – indeed the head of then Acpo’s roads policing policy told me in a letter that, in effect, she could not care less whether cameras cut accident rates, they want them anway.

    Chris Jones is right in all except one thing – I do not admit that this nonsense cannot be stopped, what you have read so far is only the beginning of my efforts to do so and if necessary get the perpetrators of this scam hauled before the courts for criminal misconduct in public office. Apart from anything else, the basic rule is that cameras should NOT be used to generate funds.

    Does the phrase “cost-effectiveness” ever cross ChrisN’s mind? Extracting profits from speed cameras, after paying the costs of running the camera system – on average about £30k pa per camera – and after paying costs and profits to the providers of speed awareness courses is a peculiarly inefficient way of raising fund. Especially as the profits go to private companies such as AA DriveTech (£47m gross income in one recent year) and to the police and not to the local authorities! Or to HM Treasury when fines are paid. So even in his basic premise, let alone the detail, ChrisN is seriously mistaken. And if extra income is needed to pay Councils or anyone else, would it not be a great deal more efficient to raise it either by an increase in fuel duty or road tax – spread across 35m drivers – than in an insane sort of inverse lottery, as in “It could be YOU”? Or even to make it an official inverse lottery with random charges imposed on registration numbers, reported to the DVLA and added to the next road tax bill?

    But more importantly than all that, my analysis shows that on balance cameras cause more fatal and serious collisions than they prevent – does that change anyone’s mind?

  9. ‘Speed drones’ sound like a good idea because they will actually reduce driving speeds and accidents. Two children have been killed by speeding motorists on a road near me in recent years, and anything which prevents that happening is welcome. The current system, with numerous signs indicating cameras which clearly do not, and never could, exist (especially in rural locations), and the common habit, where camera locations are widely known, of slowing down to pass the camera before speeding up again, are self evidently silly and ineffectual.

  10. Apologies Idris, I was being intentionally fatuous. I simply meant that the fine is a tax imposed only on those who choose to pay it (ie choose to speed).
    Conversely, I do not hink that the speed of the cars should be the issue. Generally, we do not drive cars for the pleasure but to get where we are going as fast as possible. The issue is safety. The road should be made as safe as possible, not as slow as possible.
    The other issue is pedestrians and cyclists, who are currently forced to share the road with cars. We need decent pavements and cycle paths, which we certainly do not have here in Ceredigion.

  11. ‘m a bit late to this party – been away. But Mr Francis you say results showing a net reduction in accidents ranging from 40 per cent to negative 10 per cent (ie 10 per cent increase) are meaningless. Well, i don’t know. The mean result is a reduction of 15 per cent. Assuming the results of the experiments are normally distributed, with a standard deviation of 50 percentage points, that means the chances cameras reduce accidents is 62 per cent and the chances they don’t are 38 per cent. Now that isn’t proof in a court of law, I grant yo,u because 38 per cent is “reasonable doubt”. On the other hand the balance of probabilities is that the cameras reduce accidents on those figures. 6-4 is not meaningless. If you go through life betting on 6-4 against propositions at even money you will not die a rich man.

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