More Gatso cameras looming

EVERY police force in the country could soon be allowed to use money from speeding fines to pay for thousands more speed cameras.

Following similar pilot schemes involving eight police forces around the country, the Association of Chief Police Officers has announced plans to spread the scheme nation-wide.

Richard Brunstrom, chief constable of North Wales and ACPO co-ordinator of the scheme, said: " We hope to have the country covered by April 2003. "

Brunstrom admitted this would be dependant on the Vehicle Crime Bill being passed, but said it has already completed the Commons stage and is due to be heard in the House of Lords.

" It is a Government Bill and there is no reason to expect that it will be challenged, " he continued.

A spokesman for the Home Office confirmed the bill is due to be heard in the House of Lords within two months but refused to comment on how likely it is to succeed, saying he, " couldn’t comment on the Parliamentary process. "

The move comes despite the fact that Thames Valley police force, one of the forces involved in the trial scheme, has experienced an increase in the fatality rate on its roads of almost 40 per cent since the scheme was introduced.

Following the introduction of the scheme in 1999, the fatality rate in the area rose from 156 in that year to 177 in 2000, an increase of 13 per cent. In 2001, there have been 18 fatalities in January alone, a further increase of 15 per cent based on a monthly average. That means that, taken as a monthly average, the fatality rate has risen by a total of 38 per cent between 1999 and January 2001.

The total number of accidents has also risen in the same period. In 1999 there were 150, compared to 156 in 2000 and 18 in January 2001. That means that, so far this year, the area has experienced one fatality for every single accident.

The only official explanation offered for the increase by Thames Valley spokesperson Kate Smith was that " 2000 was a particularly bad year. "

The move to spread the scheme nation-wide also flies in the face of fierce criticism from a host of influential opponents as diverse as road-user groups, MPs and police officers themselves. Critics say the police are relying on the growing number of speed cameras to do traffic officers’ jobs while reducing the number of officers on patrol, resulting in the roads actually becoming more dangerous.

Our survey last month of every police force in the country showed their views may be well founded. We found five forces that had effectively scrapped their traffic divisions by merging them with other departments, such as the armed response division. Many others were found to have cut the number of dedicated traffic officers in their areas to worrying levels.

Thames Valley was one of the forces which refused to tell us how many dedicated traffic officers it had, saying the issue was " too contentious. " Since then, a concerned officer at the force has been more forthcoming.

" I know why the issue is too contentious, " he said. " It’s because the traffic division will be effectively scrapped from April this year. It will become the road-policing unit. There will only be a few dedicated traffic officers left. "

That means that, like the traffic divisions of many other forces, the unit will no longer have responsibility solely for traffic policing but also for a number of other duties such as responding to firearms incidents or other crimes in progress.

The sources added that he also believes growing reliance on speed cameras is part of the problem. " Focusing so much on speeding takes us away from the duties we should actually be concentrating on, " he said. " I’d like to see a speed cameras spot an unroadworthy vehicle. Or knock on someone’s door to tell them their kid has been killed by one, for that matter. "

Brunstrom claims the aim of the scheme is not to harass law-abiding citizens but to change public attitudes to speeding. " If a motorist receives a fixed penalty for speeding, then that is a failure, " he said. " We want motorists to comply with speed limits. The objective is to achieve a change in public attitudes so speeding is socially unacceptable. "

To help achieve this, he wants to make speed cameras more visible to drivers and publish more detailed information on their locations.

" We need more cameras and we need them to be more visible, " he said. " They should be bright yellow, with locations published in newspapers so people know where they are and why they’re there. "

However, critics say the scheme is actually making speeding more socially acceptable by causing a massive growth in the number of speeding convictions.

RAC spokesman Jonathan Simpson said: " Clearly the majority of motorcyclists and motorists think speed cameras are just there to raise revenue, when road policing should actually be about reducing casualties.

" The sheer amount of speed cameras makes people now think speeding is the norm. So many people get speeding tickets, everyone just thinks ‘So what?’ "

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in News…

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff