Road Safety News
 

Northamptonshire road deaths hit record low

Monday 9th January 2012

The number of people killed on Northamptonshire’s roads in 2011 was the lowest since records began (Northampton Chronicle and Echo).

There were 19 deaths on the county’s roads last year, down from 24 in 2010 and continuing the downward trend of the past six years. The drop represented a 21% fall compared with 2010, and a 44% decrease compared with 2009 when 34 people died.

These figures were achieved despite the county’s casualty reduction partnership being disbanded, leading to all 40 fixed safety cameras being switched off in April 2011.

The Northampton Chronicle report says that in September, Northamptonshire Police said they had seen a three-fold increase in motorists breaking the speed limit since the cameras were turned off, but no increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured.

Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage, county council cabinet member for public protection, said: “It is very good news that the number of deaths has fallen and this reflects the hard work of all the agencies involved in keeping our county roads safe.”

Click here to read the full Northampton Chronicle and Echo report.

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This really is a simple one. Would you prefer your child to be hit by a car at 20mph or at 40mph? One involves a coffin, the other most likely involves a trip to A&E with a pretty good prognosis. The motor vehicle is quite simply a lethal piece of machinery killing and maiming more people each year than firearms yet we legislate, regulate and punish at such a poor rate that all of us spend our lives warning our youngsters 'to watch out for the cars'. We also have a disgraceful car culture, people becoming so lazy they actually find cause to complain if they are forced to use their legs in a car park or have to endure the arduous trek from the space that is not directly outside their front door 20m away. Quite why we have allowed the motorcar to dominate our entire society in the way it has is beyond me.
Jason Wellinborough

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Philip,
There is no safety argument for speed cameras in Jersey or anywhere else.
If the Jersey authorities can create roads where there is a natural tendency to [safely] exceed the speed limit (ie where the limit is set such that the 85%ile speed is above the prosecution threshold) then there is a risk you'll get them (and they'll cause more collisions than they could ever prevent as they are acknowledged to do by our authorities and experts).
And driving more slowly is WORSE for the community when it means pedestrians and cyclists take less care and step in front of drivers.
Eric Bridgstock, Independent Road Safety Research, St Albans

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I'm, based in the Channel Islands and it's been interesting to read your views on speed cameras.

We don't have cameras here but there have been lots of calls for them. These calls are really mainly as a result of residents in the area feeling the area is unsafe for them and their families and a desire to slow the traffic as a result of these concerns. I think this is the point Honor is making that there are several things to take into account when deciding speed limits.

I do agree with the view that the safer you make things the less care people take. Pedestrians here cross the road really badly, probably one of the reasons is because of our slow speeds.

Our maximum speed limit is 40mph with many roads signed at 30 and 20 mph. As is common in the UK, these limits are regularly broken by between 5 and 10mph.

Our level of road deaths have dropped here over the past 20 years from an average of 10 per year to 2.5 per year now, based on a 10 year average due to all the usual things you'd think of such as improvements in car design and engineering projects to improve road safety as well as education and enforcement. The amount of vehicles on our roads has also grown enormously which often forces everyone to drive at quite a bit below the speed limit. Undoubtedly, this has also been a key reason for the casualty reductions and seriousness of injuries falling here.

The point I am struggling to make is; I don't know if cameras make a difference or not to UK death and serious injury rates at the places they are located, but I do believe that driving more slowly is better for the community and any crashes that do happen are likely to be less serious as a result.
Philip Blake Jersey Channel Islands

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Whatever the intentions, and they have not been questioned, the side effect of taking steps to help vulnerable road users to "feel safer" is often to lead them to be less careful.

We must be sure that any measures taken to improve safety are likely to have a positive effect on road casualties - this is not always being done and reduced speed limits, 20mph zones and the deployment of speed cameras are just some examples.

I would also include speed humps, for which there is no evidence or credible argument for collisions or casualties prevented but plenty of evidence and argument that damage to suspension, steering and tyres leads to loss of vehicle control some time after that damage was done.
Eric Bridgstock, St Albans

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In entering this discussion I have addressed one element only, that of the formula and methodology that was suggested for setting speed limits. The point I made is that there are more factors and road users to be considered than just the drivers/riders of motorised vehicles. I chose my words carefully referring to: "...everyone's ability to access the road network and to feel able to do so in reasonable safety."

Whilst we are data led and measure 85% speeds as part of the process, the perceptions of road users and adjacent communities are also a reality in so far as they affect how people live their lives and decide what journeys to make and how to make them, so must also be taken into account. I did not and do not advocate a "false sense of feeling safe" among any road user groups but I do not think it is balanced to advocate that vulnerable road users should be allowed or expected to live in a state of fear to the extent that they no longer feel able to go about their normal daily business in a reasonable way in order to keep them alert to danger. Nor am I taking any particular standpoint for or against any particular class of road user, I am simply saying that we all use the roads, in different ways, and it is legitimate and necessary to take all users needs into account when considering the setting of speed limits to balance whatever formula is used based on motor vehicle use only.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

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When I was a youngster and asked to go out and play the response always was, "Yes, BUT KEEP OFF THE ROADS".
Since being detected at 37MPH driving safely (with over 50 years of safe driving) I am more of a risk as I am always looking at the sides of the road for the finance camera generation brigade. Having also had over 30 years of HGV maintenance I consider that I have the knowledge to drive in a safe way at all times and that the speed limits now in force are nothing to do with safety but finance and empire building by C/Cs who have abandoned the roads policing aspect of their responsibilities.
Reg Oliver Derbyshire

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Surely the question is "Do speed cameras influence road safety over entire counties, or even over the entire country?"

Or do they only influence the short stretch of road they are on?
Dave Finney - Slough

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Ms Byford

I shudder when I read someone talking about vulnerable road users "feeling safer". My research (and common sense) suggests that the more people "feel safe" the less care they take. This explains the increased pedestrian and cyclist casualties in 20mph zones and elsewhere when speed limits are set unrealistically low.
All road users need to ensure their self preservation gene is switched on and that they respect other road users that can hurt them. They do not want a false sense of feeling safe.
There are numerous undesirable side effects of slowing traffic and enforcing those limits.

In any case, your comment does not address the subject at hand - deaths in Northants have fallen, arguably significantly - that ought to make the residents FEEL safer, and it will be due at least in part, as Idris Francis suggested, to drivers have more attention devoted to what is happening on the road rather than what speed they ought to be travelling at.

Driving involves positioning your vehicle relative to the road layout and other road users, proceeding at an appropriate speed, in the appropriate gear, and monitoring and adjusting those using the steering wheel, pedals and other controls, in response to hazards. It also involves observing, and signalling intent to other road users. Good drivers develop the ability to do all of these instinctively and even poor drivers manage to do most of them fairly well most of the time.

Speed choice is an output from the driving process - it is what the driver decides, mostly instinctively, is the appropriate speed given all the inputs they receive from their senses.

Speed management, and speed cameras in particular, focuses a disproportionate amount of attention on that one instinctive aspect of driving – speed – reducing the time and attention available for the others. The consequence is that the driver's assessment of conditions is distorted. When most collisions involve misjudgement, poor observation or a lack of concentration, it is inevitable that interventions such as speed cameras will have a detrimental effect on drivers' judgement and increase risk to all road users and contribute to more accidents than they could ever prevent.

As a safety professional, responsible for the safety cases for everything from air traffic control to weapons and including military low flying training, I have spent three years trying to see if there is a safety argument for speed cameras. There simply is not.

And when you consider the costs involved they just make no sense at all.
Eric Bridgstock, St Albans

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Gentlemen,
Within your campaigning and research, please remember that we have more road users to consider than just those who drive powered vehicles and that we are concerned with everyone's ability to access the road network and to feel able to do so in reasonable safety. Setting appropriate speed limits needs to take account of the highway network environment, the 85% and mean speeds of motorised traffic together with the needs and safety of all road users. There is a balance to be found between these various factors and needs. Severance is a very real issue in both urban and rural areas - whereby vulnerable road users e.g. cyclists, pedestrians, equestrians, elderly drivers simply avoid many routes due to the speed, frequency and types of vehicles they encounter and whether or not they feel safe to use them. Many children rarely if ever play outside in their neighbourhoods due to the density or speed of traffic and/or their parents fears for the safety of their children near to traffic. So your smooth flowing journey may be at the expense and reduced quality of life of people who live along that route, who perhaps no longer access many of the parks or public foot and bridleways they used to enjoy because they can't or daren't cross the roads to reach them. As you drive along you will not see these effects but they are very real and important in local communities, including where you live. Highways Authorities should and do take account of these wider issues and endeavour to make decisions that balance the competing interests to the overall community benefit.

So what may seem the ideal solution from your point of view for traffic flow may not be the best solution for everyone.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

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Turning the cameras off was a good decision that did NOT decrease safety as the naysayers falsely predicted. Northamptonshire could further improve safety by raising the posted speed limits to the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions, the method that almost always produces the safest and smoothest traffic flow with the fewest accidents. The "speeding problem" is artificially created with speed limits arbitrarily posted far below the normal and safe speeds of traffic. Readers can see the science at www.abd.org.uk and www.motorists.org
James C. Walker Ann Arbor, Michigan USA

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On the basis of many years' study of the data (see www.fightbackwithfacts.com) I agree with Eric Bridgstock and am not in the least surprised that switching off the cameras has not lead to more accidents even with three times the "speeding". It all depends on what you mean by "more speeding" - a small proportion of drivers at 31mph rather than 30mph could hardly be significant.

Closer study of Northants' data since 1989 (graph will shortly be updated on www.fightbackwithfacts.com, which provides a great deal more information and analysis) shows that:

The 3 year rolling average of fatalities - which irons out most of the random variations and shows the real trends - fell from 90.6 in 1990 to 41 in 1995 (55%) with few if any speed cameras in use.

From 1995 fatalities ROSE to 65 in 2000 (58%) and then, in the main "camera blitz" era changed little - 60, 55.3, 56.3, 49.7, 54, 57.3 and 55 in 2008. In terms of single years, it took until 2008 for fatalities to fall - by 1 - below the previous minimum of 36 in 1994 - that's 14 years!

It was only in 2007 onwards (and slightly later of course for the 3 year rolling average) that single year fatalties fell, as they did across the country and indeed across the world, as the current recession started to bite. The other thing that happened at much the same time, not least due to the recession and its impact on Council funds and decision-making, was that camera numbers started to fall significantly for the first time since the early 1990s.

As in Britain as a whole, the Northants 2000 - 2007/8 period showed little improvement and this was even more true when adjusted for slowing traffic growth, around 1% in the early to mid 2000s, and -1% in the late 2000s.

Throughout the last 20 years or so of speed cameras there has been a consistent pattern of comment and claim by the various authorities, of claiming credit when casualties fall, but disclaiming responsibility when they rise. The County Council quote that “It is very good news that the number of deaths has fallen and this reflects the hard work of all the agencies involved in keeping our county roads safe.” is just one more example, I am afraid, of confusing outcome with policy decisions. There is no meaningful evidence to relate the outcome to the work of the agencies - arguably except the perverse effects of speed camera policy, maintained despite until recently despite the mounting evidence of abject failure.

Although 9 months is too short a period to provide statistically meaningful data, for the whole country let alone one county, the police comments that trebled "speeding" (whatever that really repesents in mph) has lead to no increase in accidents, I am not in the least surprised - perhaps drivers can look where they are going instead of looking for speed cameras and braking hard when they see them.
Idris Francis Petersfield

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This story should cause every authority in the country to review whether they have ANY real evidence of the positive effects of speed cameras on collisions and casualties.

This is consistent with my four years of independent research into the effects of speed management in all its forms.

There is good reason to believe that the results in Northamptonshire could be repeated across the country. Who would not want that?
Eric Bridgstock, St Albans

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