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Roads: Speed Cameras

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 5 October 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect on road accidents of their decision to phase out central funding of fixed speed cameras.

My Lords, no assessment has been made about the effect on road accidents that may result from the decision to discontinue the specific road safety capital grant. The Government continue to provide substantial funding for local transport, including for road safety. Fixed camera operation is an option for local authorities, which remain free to invest in new cameras using their own resources.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will be aware, I am sure, that there will be very few convictions for offences now that the cameras have been discontinued. Is he aware that the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership assessed the speed of cars after these machines were switched off and found that 2.9 to four times more cars are exceeding the speed limit? Is that what the Government’s road safety policy is about? There have been many more accidents, deaths and serious injuries. Is that really what the Government intend?

My Lords, we certainly do not want people to exceed the speed limit and we will monitor the casualty rates both nationally and locally. Local authorities should consider the potential of the full range of road safety interventions, including educational and engineering solutions, and the Government will encourage them to do so.

My Lords, regardless of whether the speed cameras are on or off, given that darker evenings will begin at the end of this month, plus the increased traffic speed that has been mentioned, have the coalition Government assessed the estimated increase in the deaths of cyclists and schoolchildren during the months between when the clocks are put back and when they are put forward in the summer?

My Lords, I would be delighted to debate that issue but, unfortunately, this Question is about road safety cameras. I hope that the noble Lord will table a suitable Question at some point when we can debate the issue.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware, from his department’s own figures, that the statistics on road casualties caused by speed are horrendous. Can he give an assurance that if, as a consequence of this decision to discontinue the funding of safety cameras, there is an increase in the number of accidents at the sites where those cameras were present, the Government will reconsider their policy and ensure that the cameras come back?

My Lords, the first thing to remember is that local authorities are free to use cameras as much as they wish and as they see appropriate. We will also be carefully monitoring the casualty and accident rates, as will local authorities and the police. Local authorities will then take whatever action is necessary to continue the welcome downward trend in road accidents that the previous Administration achieved.

My Lords, with the advent of localism, whereby local authorities will be free to take whatever action they like in several areas, will the Government ensure that some objective monitoring of what happens is maintained, because many of the people doing the monitoring are parti pris to either the car lobby, the cycling lobby or the pedestrian lobby—all, as it were, peddling their own views?

My Lords, if we are to continue the downward trend in road traffic accidents, it is vital that we monitor the accident rate and its causes and contributory factors, whether that is speed that, if not illegal, is excessive or whether it is just plain exceeding the speed limit.

My Lords, is it not the case that the local authorities are anticipating cutbacks in resources as well? Will the Minister take responsibility for the statement on his department’s website that,

“Without safety cameras to reduce speeding and make … roads safer, around 100 more people would be killed each year”?

Is the Minister going to deny that?

My Lords, we are discontinuing funding for new cameras, but local authorities may install new cameras if they wish. It is up to local authorities to make decisions to suit local conditions.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, in addition to the new policy on speed cameras, it is very unlikely in the current climate that additional police officers will be deployed to traffic duties? In fact, the position will understandably be quite the reverse in the climate of public sector cutbacks. Therefore, is it not increasingly necessary to monitor accident rates?

My Lords, it is vital to monitor accident rates, but the urgent priority for this Government is to tackle the record deficit in order to restore confidence in our economy and support the recovery.

My Lords, am I the only one in this overcrowded House who thinks that there is a huge air of unreality in all the questions on this issue? Surely we should not be spending taxpayers’ money to prevent people from breaking the law. People should know what the law is, obey the speed limits and just shut up.

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. There are three ways in which to reduce our casualty rates: by engineering, by enforcement and, most important, by education.

On the last point, will the educational process of speed awareness retraining courses that currently take place, and which in the main flow from possible convictions arising from people being caught by cameras, increase or decrease in future?

My Lords, I did not quite catch the first part of the noble Lord’s question. The speed awareness courses are an important part of the educational process and are one tool that can be used to drive down the accident rate.

My Lords, in view of the Minister’s earlier remarks, could he tell the House what contribution to driving down the deficit is made by discontinuing money for speed cameras and how he would compare that to the potential increase in loss of life?

My Lords, in this process of driving down the deficit, it is vital to understand that every area of expenditure that we ring-fence and protect will mean that another area must take even greater cuts.

Will the Minister comment on evaluations that have shown that the income from fines of those caught on speed cameras going into the Exchequer is greater than the amount that the Government are saving by removing the grant to local government?

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness is correct, but the purpose of speed cameras is not, of course, to raise revenue for the Exchequer but to reduce the number of accidents.