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Are speed cameras the answer to road safety?

Our correspondent writes ...

The phrase "Speed Kills" has long been used to warn us that this is the major cause of deaths in road accidents. This suggests that speed reduction must be the panacea for all driving ailments. But the fact is that speed merely increases the severity of accidents ... it's actually bad driving that kills.

And there lies the crux of the problem.

I don't drive many miles these days - an occasional trip to the supermarket with my wife if I can't think of a good excuse to avoid it; the taxiing jobs to drop my wife at the railway station and collect her again in the evening and, of course, our holidays. Yet, even on these few journeys I see so many examples of bad driving I am convinced that many of the culprits are so stupid they should not be allowed to sit in a car, let alone drive it!

The laws affecting mobile phone use in cars and vans seem to be totally ignored; traffic lights at red are commonly ignored, as are keep left bollards, and many drivers, particularly women, seem to think the white line in the centre of a road is for straddling, not keeping left of.

On motorways, the vast majority seem to believe they should drive constantly in the centre lane with the result that the nearside lane is mostly empty. If the Highways Authority decide to increase the number of carriageways from three to four, as they have on the M25, two nearside lanes become largely devoid of traffic. Indeed, it is often possible to drive at 70mph in the nearside lane on the M25 and make more progress than the nutters who are determined to clog up the third and fourth lanes. I believe it is still perfectly legal to pass other vehicles on the nearside so long as you don't change lanes to do it. Yet those hogging the centre carriageway at 50 to 60mph often sound their horns when you do. Are they so stupid they don't realise you otherwise have to make two lane changes to pass them?

At the local railway station, some of the things I see on my evening visit to collect my wife are unbelievable. Other drivers who have come to the station for the same reason as myself park on the wrong side of the road but do not switch off their headlights. The result is that approaching drivers are blinded. Or they park in the middle of the road, barely within walking distance of the pavement; or they completely block the entrance to the car park which is often the only place you can turn round, or they ignore the entrance and drive into the car park via the exit - despite the fact it is clearly marked with the No Entry sign.

So, if I see all these things on my relatively short journeys why don't the police? As a body that has to work to tight budgets and be totally cost-effective, are the police now totally reliant on speed cameras to catch their quota of bad drivers? Or is the revenue from speed cameras more important than getting to the root causes of bad driving?

To be perfectly honest, I always drove at high speeds if I had a car that was capable. It was usually a case of getting from A to B as quickly as possible given that I was expected to cram more work into every day. But the downside was that driving lost its appeal. I no longer noticed the countryside or the towns I was travelling through because I had to concentrate more on the idiots in other cars - the ones who never learned, let alone mastered, the basic skills of roadcraft.

I always considered myself to be a good driver. True, I had a few accidents in my youth but I learned from each one. Later I took the tests offered by the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the League of Safe Drivers and my driving skills increased with experience. Now that my eyesight is not what it was, I check everything twice, i.e. at road junctions, etc., and I have slowed down.

Last year, I went on holiday to Devon - a 230 mile run from London that could normally be completed in around four hours if I bombed down the fast parts. This time it was different. My daughter and her fiancée were following in his car and he had just passed his driving test. This meant he had to be very careful not to break any driving regulations as his new licence was at stake if he did. So we never exceeded 70mph.

I actually enjoyed the whole journey and the return trip. It was far more relaxing and I was completely unstressed when I reached my destinations. Now I do it all the time.

The moral is that I am now unlikely to contribute to the back door taxes from speed cameras and driving has become more pleasurable than it has been for many years.

I have never been a good car passenger but given the choice between accompanying a competent fast driver and a one-handed driver who has a mobile phone clamped permanently to his ear, I know which I would choose.


"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill


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