Driver's Scourge - Speed Cameras
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

During a recent visit to the UK, I learnt that there are 5200 speed cameras in England and Wales, and the number is expected to increase to 6000 by the end of the year. Contrast this with Delhi, which has only four - though a few more are in the pipeline!

While Delhi was not too far behind England in introducing its first camera in the latter half of the 1990s, I had seen them in Japan much before - as early as in 1990 - six of them installed along the route from Narita airport to Tokyo city.

The early cameras in England were operated by local authorities, with the revenue from fines going to the courts. But in 2000 a scheme was introduced in which 'partnerships' made up of the police, local authorities, road safety groups and magistrates' courts took over and kept a share of the proceeds. These proceeds were ploughed back to finance the purchase of speed cameras, and the number of cameras boomed. In 2002 more than 1.4 million (14 lakh) drivers were caught by them, a fivefold rise since the cameras were introduced. Some three million camera caught speed prosecutions are expected to be launched this year. Since 2000, a sum of 99million pounds (over 772crore rupees) has been raised in speeding fines.

Fines are divided within the partnership - of which there are now 42, with a further eight to be created by the end of the year - to cover operating costs. Only the surplus goes to the Treasury. Last year, the Chancellor received nearly 15 million pounds while the Thames Valley Police, the biggest 'earning' partnership, fined motorists a total of 6.9 million pounds!

What is more intriguing in the face of this massive collection of fines through speed check cameras is the mounting controversy over whether they help save lives. The British Government recently unveiled with great fanfare an independent report that claimed the cameras were reducing the casualty rates in road accidents by 40 percent and saving 100 lives a year. This independent report commissioned by Ministers from academics at University College London, studied more than half of the 42 police force areas where cameras are used.

The study showed that in the three years to 2003 there had been a 40 percent reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured, a 33 percent drop in injury accidents, and a 35 percent cut in the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured. It also found that average speeds at the most-recently-introduced camera sites fell by around 7 percent and the number of vehicles speeding at new camera sites dropped by 71 percent. The academics further reported that 79 percent of people surveyed supported the use of cameras to reduce casualties.

However, the Government's own survey of all Britain's 5200 speed cameras, published on the Transport Department website, appeared to be contradictory, as casualties were seen to be up at 1 in 7 sites! 743 sites were identified 'where casualties increased rather than decreased'!

The authorities were reported believe that of these there were only 245 cases where further investigation was necessary with the police forces responsible for them. A spokesman of the Association of British Drivers has protested this to be outrageous: 'If more than 700 cameras are contributing to the number of people killed and seriously injured, they should be scrapped - regardless of how much cash they are raising'.

The apparently differing outcome between the two reports has provoked a debate locally, over which one is to be believed - and whether enough lives were really being saved to warrant the increasing spread of the controversial money-making cameras. All but one of the 43 police forces in England, Scotland and Wales are now part of the British Government's camera partnership scheme, in which money raised goes into using more and more speed cameras and the Treasury receives any surplus.

In India we have been crying hoarse for years requesting the government to plough back the revenue raised through traffic fines into developing road safety infrastructure and into road safety projects including equipment. But the powers that be deny this happening holding on to the high moral ground that fines collected should not be termed, equated with or treated as revenue! In the last two years Delhi Traffic Police alone has enriched the national exchequer with over 45crore rupees annually through traffic fines realised, while the total annual budget allocation for the traffic police which includes installation and maintenance of traffic signals is under ten crores! While it is heartening to learn from counterparts in some of the progressive States in our country that State Governments have now started allocating a percentage if not whole of the traffic fine collection for Road Safety, this long standing demand of the Traffic Police is yet to be conceded in centrally administered Delhi.

800 words: 19.06.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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