Oxfordshire’s cameras to be switched back on?

16.29 | 2 November 2010 | | 10 comments

Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council are close to agreeing a new arrangement that would see safety cameras on the county’s roads switched back on.

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: “We are committed to deliver the government’s road safety strategy to reduce the numbers killed and seriously injured on our roads. This is delivered through enforcement, education and engineering.

"The main areas where enforcement takes place is through mobile and fixed safety cameras, and from this we can divert drivers into education as an alternative to prosecution.

"Speed continues to be one of the main risk factors on the roads, and the safety cameras form an important part of tackling driver behaviour. We want to have the capability to enforce this legislation effectively across the whole of Thames Valley and we have been working very hard at a national level to find a solution to the current funding issues.

"We have been in regular communication with Oxfordshire County Council since the cameras were withdrawn, and welcome their decision to support a new model.”

A spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council said: "It was common knowledge that the government would be making huge cutbacks from April 2011 onwards. However, it could not have been foreseen that there would be huge and dramatic cutbacks to grants that had already been agreed and signed off by the previous government for the 2010/11 financial year. There was therefore no way any of us could have known that the Road Safety Grant would be cut – and that is what led to the switching off of speed cameras.

"We’ve been in discussion with our partners at Thames Valley Police and we’re close to an agreement to have them switched back on. I look forward to being able to reveal the detail of that agreement in future weeks."

The 72 fixed camera sites in Oxfordshire were turned off in August after the county council withdrew its funding to the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership.

The decision to switch the cameras back on was apparently made following discussions with Mike Penning MP, road safety minister, chief constable Mick Giannasi, ACPO lead on roads policing, and deputy chief constable Adam Briggs, ACPO chair of roads policing operations.

The number of drivers speeding past Oxfordshire’s deactivated safety cameras increased by up to 88%, according to an earlier BBC News report.


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    “Anybody stating that any driver can speed safely clearly are not interested in road safety at all” I find this comment from Ms Brixey very naive and confusing. When you look at the 70 MPH figure on motorways it is a totally arbitrary figure and yes sometimes this speed limit is necessary but please don’t try to tell me that on a clear motorway someone driving a top of the range Mercedes for example cannot drive safely at 80 or 90 MPH is clearly wrong. Sometimes 50 MPH might be too fast it all depends on the circumstances and the road and the traffic etc.

    Paul Carberry, Oxford
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    SHOCK HORROR! % of Oxfordshire drivers NOT speeding falls from 99.8% to 99.3% after camera switch-off!

    Something must be done! Immediately

    Richard Owen who referred us to safetyknowledgecentre.org.uk/knowledge/288.html is of course the operations manager of Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership. I, on the other hand have no vested interests in this context other than safer roads.

    I have now studied the data Mr. Owen provides at that web site, and have done so knowing that these claims of increased speeding after camera switch-off are being used to persuade Oxfordshire and other local authorities to continue funding cameras. I base my assessment on 50 years experience as an electronic engineer including 30 years running my own electronics company whose survival, let alone success, was critially dependent not only on my being right most of the time, but on my willingness to bite the bullet when I was wrong, admit – even to myself – that a project had gone irretrievably wrong and cut my losses. After 15 years of involvement in anti-euro and anti-EU politics I have also become wearily familiar with incompetence, spin, half-truths, weasel words and indeed downright lies to a far greater extent that I ever came across in business or engineering, so I bring with me that experience too.

    So how do these claims of greatly increased speeding stand up to scrutiny? As Professor Stradling – long involved in road safety matters – asked in the first comment on this web site -“Is this bad news or good news?” and then answered his own question with “a vanishingly small proportion” of passing motorists ‘took advantage’ of their new found freedom to drive above the speed limit. This is good news.”” Yet this good news has invariably been presented in the media as bad news and a threat to road safety, sufficient to justify switching the cameras back on again at a cost of many hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

    Using what Mr. Owen describes here as the “much more significant” results for 1 month (!), allow me to expand on Professor Stradling’s wholly justified comments:-

    At more than 180 representative sites across the country automated equipment monitors speed, volume and indeed vehicle types of all traffic, at all speeds and the data allows sophisticated, meaningful analysis in any conceivable way, as reported annually by the DfT. In contrast, and as his report confirms, all that Mr. Owen had available in his search for justification of cameras was 6 speed cameras equipped only with counters that recorded each occasion on which a vehicle exceeded the usual penalty threshold – e.g. 35mph in a 30 area etc.

    These counters were unable to record vehicle numbers that were not speeding or therefore the the proportion of vehicles that were speeding (though we can estimate it, see later) Although the radar detectors and trip circuitry had to be working to trigger the counters, the cameras themselves were not, so no speed measurements as such were available, even for those vehicles that were speeding and it was impossible to know whether the average had fallen, risen or barely changed. Similarly it was not possible to determine whether the “extra” speeders had merely speeded up by the odd 1 or 2 mph that took them above the trigger speeds – or by much more (see below)

    Although no traffic volume data is available, it is possible to estimate it, starting with the recommended “two second rule” for vehicle spacing. Two second spacing in steady traffic on a single carriageway amounts to 30 vehicles per minute, 1,800 per hour or 43,200 per day. Of course no road operates at such maximum capacity 24 hours a day, but on the other hand some of the A roads in the TVSRP study might have 2 or more lanes, and many drivers follow at significantly less than 2 second intervals. It is therefore reasonable to assume for the sake of argument that average traffic volume past the relevant cameras might be of the order of 10,000 per day – i.e. 23% of capacity, arguably on the low side given how near busy Oxford they are.

    The total daily number of penalties in July 2010 just before switch-off was exactly 100 for the 6 sites, which would have seen a total of 60,000 vehicles pass by. That is a speeding/penalty rate of 0.17% of passing traffic. In August 2010 there were 408 penalties per day, a rate of 0.68% of passing traffic.

    Mr. Owen has homed in on these percentages rather than actual numbers to magnify the results into a scare story to frighten local authorities into continuing with cameras but as Professor Stradling pointed out, what the figures really mean is that “a vanishingly small proportion…took advantage’ of their new found freedom to drive above the speed limit. This is good news.” In other words, the proportion of drivers not speeding has fallen only from 99.8% to 99.3%. An inconvenient truth indeed – or to put it another way – 4 four times damn all is still damn all.

    Other other important points.

    It surely cannot be disputed that the great majority of drivers in a known speed camera area choose to drive just below but still within a few mph of it. It would not be in the least surprising that when the camera threat is removed, many drivers pay rather less attention to micro-managing their speeds and more to what really matters, the view through their windscreens and that as a result – as it seems – something like 1 in 200 allow their speeds to drift slighly above the limit rather than slightly below. Indeed I am astonished that the figure seems to be that low.

    Of course as the data is not available (see above) we do not know for certain, but logic suggests that the most likely explanation of the 300% increase in “speeding” indeed amounts to nothing more than that – a very few drivers speeding up by a very few mph. Could this ever justify Oxfordshire spending hundreds of thousands of pounds each year to prevent it? Clearly not.

    There is another important aspect however – that 100% of drivers concentrating less on micro-managing their speeds and looking for speed cameras, and concentrating more on the road ahead might well be significantly safer than they were before, and that the reductions in their accidents (the most important accident causation factor is “failing to look properly”) might well be significantly greater than any increase due to 0.5% of drivers speeding up by the odd few mph.

    Which brings me nicely to this extraordinary statement to which Mr. Owen has given his name:

    “It will be several months before casualty data is available at the location to see if there is a correlation between the increase in offence rates and an increase in recorded injury collisions.”

    I have to tell you Mr. Owen, in all seriousness, that if you believe that you will be able to find meaningful correlation between these “vanishingly small” speeding changes and injury collisions at a handful of sites over “several months” you clearly have no understanding of statistics or accidents, and are therefore in the wrong job.

    And finally:

    In March 2008 I drew your attention to the DfT’s admission (see http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200607/ cmselect/cmtran/memo_roads/memo1.pdf) that vehicle activated signs are not marginally less cost effective than cameras, as they had previously claimed, but 9 times more cost effective. I also copied you an independent accountant’s report and my own analysis showing that even that admission was far from the whole truth, because many of the elements of the comparison had been (seemingly deliberately) skewed in favour of the cameras, and that the true comparison was more like 50 to 1 in favour of signs. (see http://www.safespeed.org.uk/vas.html).

    Idris Francis, Petersfield
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    I challenged Clare Brixey at a Trowbridge pro-camera event she headed for Brake, and it became obvious very quickly that she has not the slightest idea of the data or how to analyse it – any more than Brake itself has. Emotion and naive simplistic theories never solved anything, nor improved road safety.

    Amongst her un-informed replies was “the only people who brake suddenly are those who are speeding” – a statement that raises roars of laughter and disbelief from any group of drivers I repeat it to. In the real world, Ms. Brixey, braking when seeing a speed canera, with its attendant risks, is a reflex action for most drivers, even those who think they are not speeding, but brake “just in case”.

    My point about the cost of slowing down traffic is more important than Ms. Brixey appears to understand. The costs I referred to – between £2bn and £5bn off GDP for each 1mph reduction in average speed. Through taxation it is that GDP that pays for the NHS and other vital services. Any rational assessment of the cost effectiveness of measures to save lives in the NHS (where more than 200 people die every day compared to 7 on the roads) due to infection, lack of hygiene,lack of skilled care, food poisoning, cutting out the wrong organ or cutting off the wrong limb,MRSA etc)shows by a very large margin indeed that slowing down traffic in an attempt to save lives on the road could only result in far more additional deaths elsewhere. Indeed one organisation that studies these things stated at a TfL meeting I attended that every time they do the arithmetic they find that slowing down traffic costs far more than it saves.

    I have met and corresponded with Richard Owen and his colleague Dan Campsall of TVSRP. The latter at a presentation where he showed a slide “72% reduction in KSI at our sites” clearly intended the audience to assume that this was due to the presence of cameras but when I challenged him he admitted that he had no way of explaining the fall.

    When I wrote to them pointing out that (see my earlier posting) the supposed benefits of cameras could be provided at 2% of the cost, they simply did not want to know. Why? One of the major reasons that cameras cost £50,000 a year each compared to less than £1,000 a year for a sign – despite no better and arguably worse results – is the astronomical costs of the enforcement system and the Partnerships that pay Mr. Owen’s and Mr. Campsall’s salaries.

    Similarly, when I pointed out to them that Transport Select Cttee stated in 2008 that they were no longer prepared to believe police/DfT data showing falling SI because hospital, fire and rescue and motor insurance data showed no such fall, they rejected out of hand my suggestion that they might like to cross check SI trends in Thames Valley with hospital SI trends in the same area. “Not our job” they replied.

    I tell you this Mr. Owen and Mr. Campsall – in the 30 years I ran my own electronics manufacturing company, there were two or three occasions when I did not go to bed for a week when a crisis occurred, and there was no way on earth I would have turned away from and ignored evidence that my figures were seriously flawed.

    The vital difference is of course that in private companies go to the wall if they peddle rubbish or fail to respond to cusomers’ needs or complaints and not just my job but my investment over years would have been lost had I failed to act. Others, employed by the State which can never go bust, have quite different motives that lead to the blatant refusal to face facts or admit error that I have come up against over the last 10 years.

    I will look up the web page that Mr. Owen refers to and see if it adds anything to the statistically meaningless speeding data I obtained from TVSRP recently, and will return to comment on this issue.

    Incidentally, the recent RAC report is nonsense from beginning to end and I will soon have available a detailed rebuttal of its findings

    Petersfield, Hants
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    I fully support speed cameras being switched back on! They should NEVER have been switched off! The only reason that cameras had been switched off was due to funding cuts, not because the scheme has ever been discredited as some may wrongly believe. Speed has and will always be a contributing factor to fatalities & serious injuries on our roads. The cost of slowing traffic down will always be far less than the cost of fatalities & serious injuries. Let’s not forget the life changing devastation that road traffic collisions also cause. Anybody stating that any driver can speed safely clearly are not interested in road safety at all. It is an absolutely ridiculus thing to say. Camera warning systems should be banned by law, then motorist could be educated in driving to the speed limits at all time and not just where a speed camera is placed. Speed awareness courses are attended because drivers can choose this option instead of points on their licence. If it were just put on to attend if drivers feel like it then the ones who need it wouldn’t attend because they wrongly believe their is nothing wrong with their driving. As for vehicle activation signs, yes they are good but only as good as the driver’s ability to obey them. A driver is much more likely to slow down for a speed camera for obvious reasons, it will cost them money. Bring on the switch on of cameras in all areas across the country. Let’s try to keep our roads a safer place to be. Yes we need education, I am very active in that area & yes we need more police enforcement. We also need drivers of ALL ages to be more responsible drivers, consider others on our roads and stop being so selfish.

    Clare Brixey, Somerset
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    Idris Francis can be relied upon to put his unique out of balance view forward at every opportunity. Slowing traffic down is a cost to the economy, but not if the faster speeds result in collisions, which in turn lead to road closures. Local business groups are far always more concerned about keeping the roads moving and having predictable journey times rather than achieiving speeds which actually increase fuel costs which shave seconds or minutes off journey times. I thought you were a businessman Mr Francis perhaps you should listen to real businessmen?

    James Cornwall
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    Mr Francis makes most valid comments. I would however consider that whenever statistics are claimed to achieve anything, that both the method of recording said statistics, and a comparative period be of equal quality and duration. To claim after one month (or five days) that figures show anything consequential in comparison to 17 years of speed cameras, is stretching the imagination somewhat. Of the number of alleged speeding vehicles, how many were involved in any accident, and if so, was speed in excess of the limit a causal factor? Such details are seldom available from reports as above, though they may be available elsewhere.

    Derek Reynolds, Herts
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    If you would like to see the full report into the camera switch-off visit:


    The results one-month on are much more significant than those quoted in the previous posts.

    Richard Owen
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    How funny. I read Mr.Stradling’s comments thinking this is sound rationale concerning what a waste of time and money cameras are, only to find out he concludes the reverse! Turning the cameras back on catches 984 of every one person who needs a driving skills update. These boxes don’t address 19/20 of the causal factors for accidents (fatalities). If there is money to be spent it should go on trained traffic officers who really can tell the difference between hazardous drivers and the 48% of drivers who speed safely every day.

    Mike Garrard
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    The Partnership’s figures for 88% increase in speeding at only two sites were released within days of cameras being switched off – but within a few days the Oxford Mail reported (
    *http://www.thisisoxfordshire.co.uk/news/8339528.Speed_camera_data__misleading_/) that they were misleading! What a surprise, given the Partnership’s financial interests!

    As Prof Stradling points out (above) the NUMBERS – which the original claim carefully failed to mention – were very small. Sadly typical of the spin we see everywhere these days.

    In any case, slowing down traffic is a net cost to the economy – congestion alone costs about £18bn pa – and is not a good idea unless accident and casualty reductions justify doing so. Again, what is noticeable only by its absence here is data on what REALLY matters – accidents and casualties.

    It seems clear to me that there is a great deal more to this change of policy than meets the eye. As usual.

    In any case policy should not be based on a handful of data over only 3 months, but large amounts of data over years – and the record shows that in excess of 10,000 more road users have died since 1992, the speed camera era, than would have been expected at that time. Furthermore, the graph of excess deaths, above prior trend, closely matches the number of speed cameras fines.

    The number of speed cameras in use rose fastest sharply from 2000 to 2006, under the now discredited hypothecation scheme. The number of road deaths from 2000 was 3409, 3443, 3431, 3508, 3221, 3210, 3172, 2943, 2538 and 2222 in 2009.

    In other words in the first 6 years of rising camera numbers deaths fell significantly only in 1 year, in stark contrast to steady falls from 1968 to 1992 without cameras.

    Furthermore, the steep falls in the last 2 years (in almost unprecedented recession and falling not rising traffic volumes) have occurred when camera numbers levelled off and then started to fall – and as GPS camera warning system usage rose to more than 50% of vehicles, helping to counter some of the 40 or so known adverse effects of cameras.

    Can anyone else see some clues in these facts – or are we to continue killing people on the basis of wishful thinking, and naive policies?

    Incidentally, Prof Stradling seems to justify continuing to operate cameras – at a cost £100s of thousands of pounds pa in Oxfordshire alone – as a means of press-ganging drivers to Speed Awareness Courses. I would have thought it more cost effective to use that money to run Speed Awareness and other (better) safe driving courses at modest or zero cost for those who chose to attend.

    Incidentally, read http://www.safespeed.org.uk/vas.html which fully documents how vehicle activated signs costing less than £1,000 pa provide (supposed) benefits to cameras that cost £50,000 a year. Why cameras? As Washington’s Deep Throat famously said, “Follow the money”

    Idris Francis
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    The ‘earlier BBC News report’ said “Thames Valley’s Safer Road Partnership monitored drivers on two roads in the county for five days.

    The tests were carried out in Watlington Road, Cowley, and the A44 in Woodstock from Thursday till Monday.

    In Cowley, 62 people were clocked speeding, representing a rise of 88%, the partnership revealed.

    In Woodstock 110 drivers were caught doing more than the 30mph limit, which is 18% more than the average for 2010.”

    Is this bad news or good news? The 88% elevation to 62 at Cowley indicates, so my solar powered calculator tells me, a prior rate of 34 drivers (tho’ its not clear whether this is 34 a day or 34 drivers over 5 days).

    The Woodstock figure of 110 gives a prior rate of 93 clocked drivers (ditto).

    So 28 extra speeders at Cowley and 17 extra at Woodstock. Per day, at worst (or possibly over 5 days: so 5.6 per day at Cowley and 3.4 per day at Woodstock). Out of how many passing motorists per day (or per 5 days) driving in free-flowing traffic (and thus able to effect some speed choice)? Several thousand (we should be told)? So a vanishingly small proportion.

    Sounds to me like hardly any passing motorists ‘took advantage’ of their new found freedom to drive above the speed limit. This is good news.

    A majority of UK drivers are mostly speed-limit compliant, few (2% in our research) ‘really enjoy driving fast’, and most motorists support speed cameras.

    Turning the cameras back on will restore the roadside diagnostic device that permits diversion to Speed Awareness courses of drivers in need of help.

    Stephen Stradling, Manchester
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