New Risks of Automatic Speedtraps

Every security system brings about new threats. Here’s an example:

The RAC Foundation yesterday called for an urgent review of the first fixed motorway speed cameras.

Far from improving drivers’ behaviour, motorists are now bunching at high speeds between junctions 14-18 on the M4 in Wiltshire, said Edmund King, the foundation’s executive director.

The cameras were introduced by the Wiltshire and Swindon Safety Camera Partnership in an attempt to reduce accidents on a stretch of the motorway. But most motorists are now travelling at just under 79mph, the speed at which they face being fined.

In response to automated speedtraps, drivers are adopting the obvious tactic of driving just below the trigger speed for the cameras, presumably on cruise control. So instead of cars on the road traveling at a spectrum of speeds with reasonable gaps between them, we are seeing “pelotons” of cars traveling closely bunched together at the same high speed, presenting unfamiliar hazards to each other and to law-abiding slower road-users.

The result is that average speeds are going up, and not down.

Posted on April 25, 2005 at 3:12 PM44 Comments


Zwack April 25, 2005 3:57 PM

These results make perfect sense. I tend to drive slightly over the speed limit, within a margin that I know is not worth the time of the Police to pull me over, warn me, give me a ticket, … Even the automated radar speed cameras are set at a slightly higher speed than I usually drive. If I knew where fixed speed cameras were and what speed they were set for, I would be driving just below that limit too.

In the past speed limits always seemed like an absolute “it’s worth punishing anyone who goes faster than X” but now they add a margin on top of that so people know “I can drive at X+Y and get away with it”. Surprisingly they do… Is anyone shocked?


Scate April 25, 2005 4:13 PM

This is one of those predictable results of automated speed traps.

In a related vein, I’ve been rear ended for slamming on the breaks at a Red Light Camera. The light was yellow, but I didn’t want to take the risk that I might get a ticket, so I stopped instead–too bad the giant 1970’s era station wagon behind be didn’t. The young man who hit me said, “I thought you were going to go for it.”

Automated law enforcement leads to automated behavior that isn’t necessarily better for society.

William V. April 25, 2005 4:40 PM

I am not sure that “cars […] traveling at a spectrum of speeds” is the optimal that we should be striving for. Rather, my intuition is that the speed differences between cars is a major factor in accidents, by forcing constant lane-changine, passing, breaking, accelerating. It seems that we would be a lot safer if all cars travelled at the same speed. So in that regard, the fact that people go at the same speed to avoid being flashed is a big positive. Obviously this won’t make the slow drivers speed up so not everyone will go at the same speed but getting all the people who exceed the speed limit to all do it at the same speed sounds like progress. I wouldn’t be suprised if this easily made up for the extra risks coming from an overall higher average speed. The matter of leaving safe gaps between cars is important, but orthogonal to this discussion.

Eric April 25, 2005 4:51 PM


Are you implying that it would have been better not to have a Red Light Camera, so that you could have cut it close on the yellow light and the young man behind you could have run a red light?

Of course it’s a pain in the butt to get rear-ended (no pun intended), but it seems to me that you and the young man — and perhaps a few more people who witnessed the event or heard the story — will be more careful in the future.

To me it looks as though the Red Light Camera worked.

Eric April 25, 2005 4:54 PM

Oh, I should have added….

Why am I not surprised that the person who rear-ended Scate was a young man.

me_and April 25, 2005 5:56 PM

As a side point: very few cars in the UK have cruise control. Our roads aren’t large enough for it to be worthwhile. Hence, drivers attempting this will still get caught at least occasionally when they go over.

Whilst the speed limit on motorways is 70 mph, the limit to be caught by a speed camera is higher to allow for errors in the camera’s measurements. Otherwise, the number of false positives would be too high, costing the driver, police and the appeals system both time and money. This limit allows for errors in the machinery, so if there was a fault, but you were driving at 71 mph, you could still get fined.

Ian Holsman April 25, 2005 6:19 PM

Australia has had speed cameras for 6-7 years now. They do work, people do slow down to avoid the massive fines.
As for bunching.. I haven’t seen it over here, but not all people are travelling just under the speed limit either, they slow down to ~20km/hour lower in heavy traffic.
Maybe it just takes some time for people to adjust?

OzDriver April 25, 2005 7:10 PM

Oz cameras work??? Not that I am aware of! Where I live – in a major capital – all it does is create the ‘bunching’ noted in the article at points known to have active speed/light cameras.

And the “3kph limit” in some states is a joke (3kph over the limit triggers the camera).

In addition, more than one Auto Association has noted the significant increase in ‘rear enders’ as mentioned by Scate.

Nothing beats police IN PATROL CARS for effective speed (plus road worthiness, dangerous driving, etc) control.

Bruce Schneier April 25, 2005 7:49 PM

“Are you implying that it would have been better not to have a Red Light Camera, so that you could have cut it close on the yellow light and the young man behind you could have run a red light?”

These are cameras that detect speeding, not running red lights. And I don’t know if the security trade-off for these cameras that automatically detect speeding are worth it or not, but there is this other risk that needs to be taken into account.

Davi Ottenheimer April 25, 2005 7:54 PM

Another great post Bruce.

I only recommend you change the title to “Every system change brings about new threats”…I realize it does not have the same sizzle as something like “Security begets Insecurity”, but it is closer to the point of the article.

Or here’s another take on the situation: “RAC Foundation yesterday called for an urgent review” because no one bothered to do any sort of pilot/tests to better understand the behavioral aspects of surveillance technology on traffic flow.

I think the best thing that could come out of the situation is a better development and release methodology for changes in traffic law enforcement. It might sound bureaucratic, but it goes back to the concept that bugs are much cheaper and easier to fix early on then after release to the public.

Stuart April 25, 2005 8:43 PM

Goes to prove: they’re looking at the wrong issues. Speed is easy to measure, and easy to enforce. Speed limit is 60 kph; you’re doing 61 kph; you’re busted, pal. Therefore, the politicians will make a big show of getting tough on those that speed.

Meanwhile, those that are driving in a dangerous manner but below the speed limit get away with it. Tailgating; changing lanes every couple of seconds to try to gain a fraction of a second on the commute; running red lights — all things that are hard to monitor and enforce, but which have a very significant impact on the safety of our roads.

People want easy answers to hard problems. Until that changes, the politicians will pander to that mindset, and society will suffer as a result.

Anonymous April 25, 2005 9:42 PM


I have noticed that I am better able to control the gaps around me if, when on the verge of being boxed in, I can either slow down or speed up. If I can’t speed up, then I feel like my options for keeping myself safe are greatly diminished. Slowing down is not always a good thing, especially if you are being tailed by an overly aggressive driver.

This is also true for when I need to make lane changes, for instance, when I need to cross over to get to an exit ramp or to switch to let other traffic merge. Lane changing is a normal, expected part of driving that becomes much more dangerous when in one of these pelotons.

As great as it would be for there to be some way to ensure safety on the road, automatically enforced speed limits are not it. Reckless driving, independent of speed, should be the true determinant of who gets a ticket and who doesn’t. I know that ‘reckless’ is subjective, and I know subjectivity breeds controversy, or acts as a vector for abuse, but I don’t think there’s a better way.

J-ack April 25, 2005 10:14 PM

It’s getting like China. Gov’t control and more cams. They can’t trust people to think. I post stuff on blogs and it gets censored or deleted. This is happening more and more and the stuff isn’t radical. All this privacy and security gadgetry is a joke. It is so easy to defeat many security mechs out there, it isn’t funny. Add more links guys and keep using cookies, that should do it. This is about selling stuff and when you expose a busted server, password exposure or some other boneheaded problem, the expert weigh in or start the Chinese censor act and then you crack them a good one and they just shutup. We are being reduced to trapping each other as a means of achieving something close to security and then something else will happen and we’ll have more gadgets, less privacy and more security problems. The experts will sell you your privacy back for a fee. Here is a free tip. Ditch the cell phone. You get more privacy and spend less cash. Talk to the people around you.

cft April 26, 2005 12:54 AM

I like to drive RIGHT AT the speed limit. It has advantages other than just not getting a ticket. With most people driving faster than the limit, I’m one of the slower cars. Since nearly all traffic in front is moving away from me, I don’t have to work so hard braking/passing, etc. It’s just stay between the lines and keep half an eye out for someone going REAL slow. BTW, I only do this in the slow lanes of a multi-lane highway.

The six and a half minutes I could be saving by speeding just isn’t worth the extra work, for me. That’s energy I could be using having a conversation on my cell phone! (just kidding)

Now think of how nice it would be if everyone went the same speed. I could go that speed and get the same benefit, so I WOULD drive faster. But I’m with the previous poster – I think the speed differentials between the cars are more dangerous than the speed itself (withing reasonable bounds). So I don’t think what they’re seeing is much of a problem.

benlast April 26, 2005 2:20 AM

If I recall correctly, the speedometer in a UK car can be up to 10% in error (this is a legal limit). Thus I personally won’t rely on it to tell me my exact speed; I use a GPS for that. So driving at what your car tells you is exactly 70 may or may not be correct. Having said that, every car I’ve ever checked the speed on has had an optimistic speedo (says 70 when you’re actually doing 66, for example).

PeteM April 26, 2005 2:56 AM

“If I recall correctly, the speedometer in a UK car can be up to 10% in error”

Legally it must be within the limits -10% to +0%, so you can not get nicked at 75mph and claim that your speedo said you were legal.

The thing I find most interesting about these cameras is them being called “Safety Cameras”. Since thier mass introduction the steady fall of road deaths and serious injuries that has been happening since the 60’s has stopped and reversed. How does more deaths and injuries equate to Safety?

Nick Barron April 26, 2005 3:08 AM

Re 10% error. The Construction and Use regs state that “2. For all true speeds up to the design speed of the vehicle, the true speed shall not exceed the
indicated speed.”

For the “normal” speed range between 25 and 70mph the permissinle error is capped at V/10+6.25 mph where V is the true speed of the vehicle.

Every speedo I’ve verified with GPS is 5-10% over, and also not particularly linear in error.

Neil April 26, 2005 3:39 AM

Cruise control is as rare in the UK as good plumbing. Not sure why because we do as much motorway driving as Americans.

The problem with the sheer number fo speed traps now in the UK is either lots of braking just before the cameras (I now instinctively brake when I see a camera even if I was going at/under the limit) OR lots of drivers staring intently at their speedometers instead of looking at the road.

Anyway as with so many “security” measures which are nothing to do with security, speed cameras are first and foremost a generator of revenue for the police. Their road safety function is secondary at best.

Chris Becke April 26, 2005 4:44 AM

The thing I find most interesting about speed cameras is the fact that strict speed control is an unintended outcome.

I mean, when the original speeding laws and limits were set, there was no expectation by lawmakers that the limits and regulations they were setting could, or would, be strictly enforced.

Now that we have the technology to enforce these laws, they have effectivly changed, from being rather lax guidelines to being hard limits on behaviour.

Now, I had a friend who overtook slow traffic on a national road. Because there was oncomming traffic (in the distance) to do this manuver safely he had to exceed, briefly, the speed limit. As luck would have it, there was a temporary camera right there as he returned and he got a speeding fine.

So, legally I guess, instead of smartly overtaking slightly sloer traffic, we are required to linger in the wrong lane, waiting for a <5mph speed difference to get us past? Silly.

Clive Robinson April 26, 2005 5:37 AM

@ Davi Ottenheimer

Davi and all, if you look back through the posts in the past you will see I identified this as a problem some time ago.

Funny how folks do not belive something untill that see an official Bruce post 😉

Kevin Davidson April 26, 2005 7:42 AM

Around downtown Atlanta, the Interstate speed limit is 55 mph, and most all the traffic goes 70-75 (except when things are jammed up). I’m told they can’t enforce the speed limit with police cars because that would create massive traffic jams and a safety hazzard.

Maybe a camera could help there.

Paul April 26, 2005 8:36 AM

Speed cameras in the UK are becoming an increasingly unfunny joke.
The cameras were introduced as a speed reducing measure for accident black spots. Most fixed cameras I know about are at dangerous junctions.

What is now really getting up the public’s nose now are mobile speed traps. These now involve unmarked (yellow lights rather than blue so it looks like a builders van) white vans parked at the side of the road. I have seen these often and almost always they are halfway down a long straight with no junctions and with no accident history. This is supposedly against legislative guidelines. We also have police hand held speed traps where the police officer hides behind a tree or building and jumps out to catch the driver.

How can these examples be classed as safety cameras? I now hit the brakes automatically every time I see a van parked or a fluorescent jacket at the side of the road.
Most drivers now spend their time looking at the Speedo rather than the road.
The speed detection equipment has also been shown to be faulty on numerous occasions.
Fines and speeding point are processed automatically without any evidence of proof being presented to the accused. In fact the accused is often told that they face an increased fine if they attempt to contest the speeding charge.

Speeding is being touted at the greatest of all motoring evils yet cameras do nothing against poor driving/tailgating/unroadworthy cars.

I’ve never yet seen a speed camera outside of a school where their use would probably be welcomed.

Israel Torres April 26, 2005 8:40 AM

Hmmm, anyone taking the I-15 on a regular basis could see that “speed-caravan-clustering” has its advantages, occurs naturally between strangers for mutual benefit, and “appears” to provide minimum risk.

Israel Torres

RvnPhnx April 26, 2005 9:45 AM

A couple of quick notes:
1: Speedometer error has a great deal to do with the tires (or tyres, if you are British) installed on the vehicle. If the tire/rim combination is the size that the design team for that vehicle specified then the spedometer will read within -0%/+2% (of actual rate of travel) on many vehicles once_the_tires_are_warm. Many states in the USA now will no longer allow garages/repair shops to install tire/rim combinations which will cause the spedometer/odometer to read incorrectly (greater than 10% error). I still think that 10% error is excessive, in any case, for a vehicle with properly inflated tires (to the pressures specified in the owner’s manual of the vehicle). (My GPS, for reference, is only really useful on flat, straight lengths of roadway–since it is no-longer recalculating my speed every 5 seconds from scratch.)
2: I have driven many places in the Northeast of the USA (including the Boston area, home of some of the most asinine driving known to man) and have noted that the following seem to be the major problems:
I: Tailgating
II: Lack of attention to the roadway/signage
III: Disregard of weather condidtions/paranoia about weather conditions
IV: Disregard of the demonstrated intent of other drivers (yes, I am trying to move into the right lane, but running the driver in the right lane off the road is not the way that I’d like to do it)
V: Disregard of safe operating parameters of vehicles (an 18-wheeler cannot stop in less than 4 carlengths, if he can even see you that close) and other laws of physics

What anyone wishes to do about these (or even thinks may have some useful effect) is up for debate–but uniformly enforcing the law (stopping 40-year-olds whom drive unreasonably as well as teenagers) couldn’t hurt. In many states is in fact the law not to do this. No wonder teenagers think that you can get away with anything–they see their parents do it on a regular basis.

Steve L. April 26, 2005 10:26 AM


I couldn’t agree with you more. Police should spend time focusing on more than just speeding. Moreover, road violations, IMHO, are definitely less important than real crime (Theft, murder, rape, etc.)

If cameras are to be used who is to say that they’re getting an accurate reading. It has long been known that radar gets spurious readings from time to time. Therefore, if no one is there (police officer) to see if you really are speeding (by passing everyone quickly or some other empirical evidence) then how can we trust these cameras? To remove the human completely seems to open up a much higher risk of false positives.

seaan April 26, 2005 12:05 PM

Rather, my intuition is that the speed differences between cars is a major factor in accidents, by forcing constant lane-changine, passing, breaking, accelerating. It seems that we would be a lot safer if all cars travelled at the same speed.

The “stay right unless passing??? is a perennial internet discussion, largely advocated by people who pay less attention to the concept of a maximum speed limit. Although enforced in the UK (“stay left unless overtaking???), many US states don’t have this rule. Indeed is it is perfectly legal to pass on the right in California.

Every time I drive in the UK I’m amazed at the number of lane changes that occur during an ordinary trip on the freeway. In a lightly traveled road, one slow vehicle causes every other car to make two lane changes while passing it.

So to further think along the lines the quote; I wonder if the UK would suspend the “keep-left??? rule if vehicle speeds truly became more uniform (and what would the impact on safety would be)?

Jarrod April 26, 2005 12:29 PM

In California, the Highway Patrol at least calibrates their equipment before leaving for patrol. Claiming that the equipment was out of calibration is possible, but rarely goes very far. In addition, newer Ka-band radars and lasers are becoming more popular because they offer instantaneous results and are harder to pick up by radar detectors.

I’d prefer that the money that goes to cameras be used instead on real officers, because in the event of an emergency, personnel are available for deployment to an accident scene or a crime. It’s better to have people worrying about one cop (or maybe two) in the area than constantly worried about who is looking over their shoulder.

I know what you’re talking about. I-15 by 395 near Victorville routinely has packs of vehicles moving nearly 100mph. You really have to make sure that you’ve planned ahead in order to make the 395 ramp. 🙂

FunCrusher April 26, 2005 3:20 PM

Davi, Thanks for the link to the smartmotorist site. I’ve been trying to explain to people how traffic jams can start for no apparent reason for years and no one believes me – now I can point them to a much richer explanation.

As far as the automated speed cameras go there are other problems with them as well. I’m all for safer driving (I do at least 30,000 miles a year and spend so much of my life in traffic jams I could cry) and in certain circumstances gatsos and other speed cameras work a treat but sometimes (like when they loom up on someone unexpectedly from around a corner) they cause more accidents than they save. People see them and panic. They might not be speeding, they might be going at the right speed for the conditions but they see the fluorescent glow and their mind goes “SLOW DOWN!” causing the person behind them to rear-end them. Admittedly this might be a minor accident compared to going off-road or hitting someone but sometimes you wonder why a camera was put just there.

On the other hand, people won’t stop speeding when the penalties can be light. You hear of people losing their licence for a year or two and having a fine but quite often people who speed continuously (like most of my colleagues I am sorry to say) can be given what amounts to not even a slap on the wrist. One colleague was doing 115mph recently and was pulled over by the police. He lost his licence for 35 days and was fined a paltry £300. This is when he already had 6 points on his record (2 previous speeding offences in the last 3 years for the non-UK people) and been to court for a very similar offence a few years before and not even been fined.

I know that this is only one example but I would have thought that a system that punished the offence more effectively would help matters more. In Switzerland (I am informed) if you go up to 15 kph over the speed limit you get fined, more than 15kph over and you lose the licence, no ifs, ands or buts allowed.

More and more in the UK we are seeing differential speed cameras where you get snapped on the way in, snapped on the way out and if you have, on average, exceeded the speed limit you get caught.

On another note, on the M25 (UK’s largest car park) they have introduced a variable speed limit, when congestion is bad the speed limit (enforced by auto-cameras) lowers upstream of the problem area to 30, 40, 50 or 60 mph, slowing the traffic entering the area of the problem. This had reduced the effects of heavy traffic in the area by a huge amount and I’m pressing the Highway authority to extend it.

@Paul – I agree that mobile camera teams are the bane of most people’s life. People end up driving by looking at the speedo all the time, which is like driving while having a deep conversation with lots of eye-contact – possible but not advised.

One way of remedying this is by limiting all cars to a maximum speed of 70 mph in all conditions, which would raise even more hell

David Cheatham April 26, 2005 5:34 PM

Kevin Davidson re: Atlanta
You’re exactly right about Atlanta traffic. It’s almost surreal.
For those of you who don’t know about it, Atlanta has two major North/South roads go through it, I-75 and I-85, and they merge together for about half the trip before splitting back apart. This road goes straight through the heart of Altanta, and is like 6 lanes wide at points.
The speed limit on this massive road is 55 miles an hour.
The speed people drive on this road? I’ve seen 85. Mostly it’s 70-75. No one is EVER pulled over, unless it’s at least an hour past rush hour, which I think is about 1 o’clock in the morning at this point. 😉
Half the time the police literally cannot pull someone over. This road was built through an already existing Atlanta, cutting under buildings, having bridges twenty feet in the air passing four feet away from building windows, etc. We actually employ people to remove others safely from this road after their cars break down.
Even if there is a wide enough shoulder to pull someone over, the traffic cannot take someone slowing down to get over…if one car slows down on I-75/I-85, it will have ripples for the next hour as it propogates onto surface streets and even out to I-285. (The perimeter road, which the roads that make up I-75/I-85 cross four times.)

Clive Robinson April 27, 2005 2:14 AM

@Steve L

Is murder by careless driving any less a crime than by gunshot?

Ask the victims family if it’s any less hurtfull because their loved one was mangled to death by some inconsiderate driver who was late for a meeting or some such excuse.

On the acuracy in the UK the fixed traps have road markings and two photos are taken a supposedly fixed time distance appart. The acuracy is then determained by the distance traveled against the elapsed time.

And the reason I say supposedly is that a group of people have started putting monitoring equipment near these cameras to measure the time interval on the two flashes, and for some cameras these appear to be variable by more than a few percent. All we can do is await their published report.

As an RTS design engineer I am not surprised by this, the number of bad designs I have seen based around single chip computers way way outnumber the just acceptable let alone the good.

Common mistakes when making short elapsed time measurmerments are to,

1, use the underlying OS timers (very bad).
2, Forget to turn the interupts of when using software only timers (almost as bad).
3, Incorectly use hardware timers so roll overs are missed.

THe problem with the above is that for 95-99% of tests it appears to be accurate (so simple calibration will not pick it up). Even if a problem does occure during calibration/testing, it’s usually put down to operator error!!!

There is also the problem of crystal oscilators not being properly set up (See an earlier post by Bruce on laptops being tracked by their CPU time inacuracies).

If you want a system to stand up in court and very few will on close technical examination (which is possibly why the designs are kept secret) you need to be able to prove that in all cases your timer will be acurate to within the agreed error margins.

Put simply you need to design your system to be atleast three times as accurate as the specified error margin and ten times is better. So for 1% it needs to be better than 1 part in a thousand, with no possibility of random events effecting the timing period, or external events affecting accuracy (temprature, powersupply variation etc).

Olav Gerner April 27, 2005 5:15 AM

Authorities in Norway will be instaling digital cameras which scan yuor number plate and calculate the avarage speed between the cameras!

I don’t like this kind of surveilance…


Tim Hardy April 27, 2005 5:27 AM

“Although the evidence is anecdotal” notes the Telegraph before going on to treat it like a statistically proven fact while they pursue their traditional agenda.

So, a member of the car lobby (the RAC) uses an unscientific study to pander to the complaints of their members who are tired of being fined for breaking the law. And?

Meanwhile “the AA [a rival motoring organisation ] prepares to include the location of fixed cameras in the next edition of its road atlas,” thereby actively encouraging the kind of speed up-speed down behaviour both bodies and the newspaper pretend to condemn.

The paper is pleased by the failure of the Road Safety Bill. “This would have brought Britain into line with many continental countries, such as France, which not only outlaw [speed trap detector] devices but impose draconian penalties for any motorists found to be in possession of one.” Ugh, “continental”, can’t have those dirty Europeans interfering with Briton’s god-given rights, can we? Especially not the French. Pardon me for asking but when was punishing someone for carrying a tool whose only purpose is to help them break the law “draconian”?

Many motorists seem to believe they have a personal exemption to the law because of their “superior driving skillz”. It comes as no surprise that they don’t like getting caught. Quit whining. You speed, you get fined. You break the law, you get punished. If the law is unfair then campaign to get the law changed.

There are other far more important privacy issues around the use of surveillance cameras. Let’s not get the civil liberties cause diluted by association with the narrow interests of the automobile industry and those who place their need to get from A to B faster above the lives of those they endanger with their reckless behaviour.

phebe April 27, 2005 7:27 AM

UK’s speed camera’s were originally intended to be a “visible deterrent” to speeding. There were a lot of people complaining when they started trying to disguise them, and funnily enough these were the same naughty speeders who think they can drive fast safely. Its largely irrelevant though since most london drivers I know are intimately familiar with the location of EVERY camera on the road, and even know which ones are just empty boxes. This ilustrates my next point, people are WICKED smart! they always find ways around these systems. I don’t think the safety problems caused by cameras yet outweigh the benefits of having them. If the profit from speeding fines were invested more wisely, perhaps Britains roads would be less congested and a lot safer? Speeding fines net 3.4million squid according to the Beeb:

RvnPhnx April 27, 2005 8:59 AM

@Clive Robinson
“Is murder by careless driving any less a crime than by gunshot?

Ask the victims family if it’s any less hurtfull because their loved one was mangled to death by some inconsiderate driver who was late for a meeting or some such excuse.”

I must say that I agree with the sentiment, but here in the USA (I have no idea about the UK on this, but people are human there too last time I checked) the most major problem is not the speeding (which just makes an already occuring accident more severe in most cases) but the careless driving. I’ll be damned if Eight out of Ten times when an emergency vehicle needs to get by (and they properly signaled their presence) that people don’t even make the slightest effort to get out of the way. It is this attitude (IMNSHO) that is the real danger. We need more (and better trained) officers here in the USA. More of them to provide better coverage–Better trained to prevent abuses and to help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively under the law (and without needing to pass duct-tape band-aid measures like the PATRIOT act through the legislature).

Clive Robinson April 27, 2005 11:39 AM


I agree on the dangerous driving. If you look back in Bruce’s Blog you will see that I have made comments about exactly this (see the one about the helicopter that can read five number plates a second).

When an effective system is found to curtail dangerous driving/behaviour I will be one of the first to praise it unless it unwarentedly intrudes on personal privacy. It’s why I like the idea of more Police on the streets not technology, they are flexable and do not store every last bit of information away just in case it can be converted to money (see all those lame programs about speed cops for instance).

The Bunching problem was highlited some time ago by an independent University (I think it was Reading but I am not certain web hunting here we go). As pointed out the RAC and AA are using it in their turn to raise money via membership etc (hey that’s what lobying is all about).

I have made the point several times that these automated systems are not effective because
A, they are fixed, and
B, they are not adaptable like their targets and
C, they are very expensive to install and operate.
D, Easily open to abuse.

I have also said that they are seen by the Government as a way to raise income via the back door instead of by direct taxation (see BBC Radio 4 quote below for the latest on the income to date).

However it has been noted that the income stream is not as good as expected (see London Congestion Charging stuff on the web). This is a bit embarising so the proposel is to enlarge the area it covers.

Likewise the UK Governments solution to the falling income and significant oposition is not to look for an effective soloution, but get more technology. They probably will not be happy/satisfied untill every street corner has a survalence cammera that can read your number plate whilst counting the pimples on your nose (yes they can do face recognition as well suposedly on every motorist see stuff on London congestion charging).

However Central Goverment do not have the money to put up the number of cammeras, only in selected areas which is why they have given it to local authoraties/government and the Police to install and maintain and collect money from.

I am confidently predicting that as the cameras become of less use (income wise), a new revenue system will be thought up (ie road tolls etc). And of course when the revenue from this starts to drop another use for the technology will be found, “Ninteen Eighty Four” happy 21st birthday, you have come of age…

@Tim Hardy
This morning on Radio 4 they said when talking about automated fine systems for road offences that over 100Million had been collected not the 4.3Million you quote (I think your figure might be just for Wales). Put in perspective thats over 4USD equivalent for every person in England, Wales etc. I belive that the EU has 600Million citizens and the US 250Million, do the maths for yourself but these survalence technology companies must be rubbing their hands with joy…

Gordon JC Pearce April 28, 2005 3:40 AM

Don’t forget that the current motorway speed limit in the UK was set in 1965, when the vast majority of cars were not capable of reaching 70mph. Cars have developed a lot since then – there were still cars being built with cable-operated brakes in the mid 1960s! Even my 15-year-old Citroën has roughly four times the braking capacity in one front wheel than an entire Morris Minor.

Duckling April 28, 2005 9:51 AM

Oh, boohoo.. speed cameras are so dangerous.
Or are they? What happened was that the speed cameras made it evident that people are driving like idiots (ie. too close at high speeds).

So, remove the cameras, then.
Will people get smarter?

Not likely. You might not see the problem as clearly, but it will still be there. You’d just be moving the problem around to create nicer looking statistics.

MadAhab April 28, 2005 1:59 PM

It’s amazing how dense so many of these comments are. The point is very simple: strict enforcement can in fact promote more effective flouting of the rules; automated enforcement of safety regulations sometimes makes people less safe.

The people here saying “boo hoo, now you have to follow the rules” are in fact more likely to be unsafe drivers than those who bend the rules but have a keen awareness of their driving environment, precisely because they believe that simply following the rules is enough to make one safe.

Honestly, the only thing worse (and not even consistently so) to the human condition than total anarchy is absolute enforcement of rules. Humans are smarter than rules in most cases.

Paul TS Lee April 29, 2005 3:15 AM

  • Speed Cameras: Right solution.
  • Speed Cameras at selected “danger spots”: Insufficient application of solution.
  • “Fake” and “Mobile” versions of the same: Stupid application of solution.

My answer: Speed Cameras (and Red Light Cameras) everywhere.

My reasoning: If “speeding” is against the law, then it is against the law at all applicable times and places, not just where the police happens to be with a radar/laser and/or when a community needs some extra income without direct taxation.

The absudity of the current “enforcement” regime can be easily seen by substituting “speeding” with “murder”. How many police departments can get away with only investigating/preventing murders in places where there happens to be frequent, observeable homicides taking place, or at least lots dead bodies out in the open?

And anyone who is still convinced that speed limits, especially on highways/freeways, are some sort of holy writ, I advise them to compare the speed limits on US interstates with those on the German autobahns. Or better, if “55” really “saves lives”, then why are US interstates now have 65-70 mph as their speed limits?

As for red-light cameras being responsible (i.e. ultimate cause) for increasing rear-end collisions, I must politely, but firmly, say: that’s a load of dingo’s kidneys.

Scate, being rear-ended sucks and I am not trying to diminish your stress/pain/aggrevation. What I do want to know is how you arrived at the conclusion that you’d be risking a ticket if you tried to cross the intersection. It seems to me that if the light turned yellow just as you came up to the intersection (say within 10 feet of the white line), the yellow light should be long enough for you to safely cross the intersection, going at the speed limit, plus two seconds for reaction time and some additional percentage as a safety margin. (E.g. a one second yellow light at a 60 ft wide intersection where the speed limit is 40 mph is certainly too short.)

Knee-jerk slowing down around known traffic cameras and presence of police is understandable, but situations like the one you described admit only three categories of explanations:

1) Both you and the “rear-ender” were going at the same speed, and at least you would’ve made the yellow, but you slowed down and the other guy didn’t pay attention.

2) You were going slower than the other guy, or at least was being severely tail-gated. You hit the brakes, and he didn’t/couldn’t react in time.

3) You were going faster than the other guy, but decided to play it safe at the intersection while the other guy didn’t pay enough attention.

Note that none of these scenarios depend on either or both of you “speeding”, and more importantly, they don’t depend on the presence of the camera: you were just trying to obey the law. The simple fact is that you were paying attention to an overt enforcement (the red-light camera) of a universal traffic rule, but the “read-ender” obviously either didn’t know or care, in which case you should count youself lucky that he was behind you and not a part of the cross-traffic, where he could’ve side-swiped you instead. So it seems to me that paying attention to the car in front of yours is more important than thinking about possible speed/red-light traps. Like Duckling said, these devices are showing up the really bad drivers, who were blending with the rest of “us” because we allowed ourselves to be at least somewhat less than “good” drivers.

Ok, I don’t actually want speed/red-light cameras everywhere. What I would actually prefer (privacy advocates should avert their eyes now) are full motion, online video cameras everywhere, which are randomly manned (personned) by actual law-enforcement types. I’d keep the speed/red-light cameras, but only as detector/triggers, so that a live person would actually look at the situation and make the call. And to push this one step further, in the vein of what David Brin refers to as “little brothers”, these cameras should be accessible by anyone, who can then either do the neighborhood watch/good citizen thing, or act as bounty hunters and point out mis-deeds to the authorities.

Johndg April 29, 2005 9:59 PM

Well, I like speeding cameras. We had them in the Toronto area for a while, 10 years ago, and they made a difference. When the govt changed and sucked up to the speeders and dropped the cameras, speeds on the main highways went up a scary amount.

We had cameras in vans beside the road, not in fixed places. When the program was cancelled, they were about to deploy mobile cameras in moving vehicles, so speeders would never know where they were coming from. In that case people won’t be staring at the speedomter all the time, they’ll get a feel for how fast the speed limit feels like – you only have to watch if you’re not used to that speed…

This doesn’t mean that the police should not be on the road too, to check for other dumb dangerous behaviour – but one cop can’t pull over too many speeders and it’s often dangerous for them to do so, not just in Atlanta.

What speeders really object to with the cameras is that they let the police fish with a net not a line…

We have red-light cameras set to work only if the vehicle enters the intersection at a set speed (I think it’s 25 kph = 15 mph roughly) after the light is red – so the folks hustling through a yellow will not be photographed and should not be rear-ended. But the rear-end accident by the person choosing not to run the yellow light could happen with or without intersection cameras.

The people running the system have to be motivated by safety not just money, though money as a collateral advantage is not so bad. But if it’s just the money, then when people adopt the desired behaviour, i.e. slow down, then the folks with the cameras will think the system failed. Not good!

BTW the police should not get the money from fines – these or any others. That is a conflict of interest.

So – there are some design judgments to make, and some temptations to avoid, but a decent useful system can be built that will make roads safer.

People talked about the “photoradar tax grab” – just a voluntary payment, if you ask me – one can choose not to speed.

Mike April 30, 2005 4:41 PM

Washington, DC has this whole situation already figured out.

Just make sure there is so much traffic in the area that you couldn’t do the speed limit if you wanted to.

I used to have a 13 mile commute that routinely took an hour and 20 minutes. Worse if it rained.

zuuu April 24, 2007 10:55 AM

Speed limits are too low.
Cars are designed to travel 100 mph cruising speed nowadays anyway.

All interstates should be at least 70 even through metro areas.

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