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back to article Police poison speed debate with fuzzy figures

This may be the week when the Department for Transport learns about the risks of making a case for road safety based on figures that every expert in the field knows to be untrue. Swindon Council got a good old-fashioned clip around the ear on Thursday from David Ainsworth, Deputy Chief Constable of Wiltshire, who declared …

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as I said in the last story

the problem is not realy weather they work or not it is that now they are SEEN to be just a revinew raising tool there hole purose has become discreditied. one of the best solutions would to be to disisoate the law inforcemnt/safty feature for the mony maby by donating all fines to charity or giving all fines to a diffrent department (schools hospitiles) or to change the punishment to a non monatry one

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Stop

Typical reaction from Plod.

"Ve vill carry on regardless!"

Which, inevitably, will mean even less money being spent on *real* policing (catching burglars, muggers etc).

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Ash

Do you know what DOES reduce accidents?

Flowers.

Tie a few bunches of flowers to a lamp post and I guarantee a LOT more people will slow down in the next few miles at least.

Nothing like the macabre to bring about realisations.

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Burn the speed cameras!

They sound such a good idea, great way to keep the roads safe. But the fact that never ending debates about the usefulness of speed cameras exist show that they are a flawed system.

If people agreed with the use of speed cameras the government and police would never have to produce truckloads of statistics to convince us they work, we would simply fall in love with speed cameras and call for one on every street corner.

The big failure (Which always gets debated and will on the comments here) Is people saying if you stick to the speed limit you will never have to worry about getting caught, well you are dealing with human beings here who have been taught through survival of the species that bending the rules (EG speeding) is a matter of fact, we cant help ourselves, we are not robots. If we see an empty road we will put our foots down.

Speed cameras are too easy to defeat for us humans, now the best way to pit a human is maybe against another human as both sides then understand the rules in the fuzzy way us humans interpret them.

So the simple solution would be to get rid of all those cameras and put the Police back on the roads again.

The Police, hey now theres a radical idea, you know these people can even detect if someone is drunk, on a phone, not looking where they were going, road-raging, tailgating, ooh think of all those things a speed camera cant tell you off for. Then everyone would behave themselves better with a Police car following behind.

I certainly have more respect for the police than I do for a road side cash machine. The route I use for work (On my motorbike) has a nice speed camera on it which I find so much fun to slow right down to single digits as I pass through, then as I exit it I open my throttle and listen to the clatter of my big single cylinder, wow, I would never consider doing *that* in front of a Police car...

Speed cameras? Burn them all!

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Lying with statistics

Assuming we take the police at their word that excessive speed was a factor in 12% of all accidents. Does this just mean that 12% of accidents involved people speeding or that the speed was actually the cause? Driving around, it seems that nearly everybody is breaking the speed limit, judging by the way the red lights come on as we approach a camera. I'll be really conservative and estimate that 50% of all drivers break the speed limit.

Now, if 12% of accidents involve somebody speeding, and 50% of drivers speed, this acually indicates that fast drivers are less likely to be involved in an accident.

And that is why I was doing 180mph through a residential area, the defence rests its case your honour ;D

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much money with little to show for it?

> £320,000 it pays annually towards just three fixed cameras

putting aside the political shenanigans that all the commentators seem to be fixated on, doesn't this seem like a lot of monkey to spend on three roadside devices: whatever they might be?

Maybe the cops are really just annoyed that this cash it might actually go back to the people of Swindon, rather than being "rightfully" spent on the current weasel-words of fighting crime and terrorism.

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Anonymous Coward

Cabbages

All Swindon has done is to refuse to pay the £320,000 annually for the maintenance of the cameras. They have no authority to remove the cameras (of which they only have 3 anyway). They will either be removed due to lack of funding and moved elsewhere within Wiltshire, or the shortfall in funding will be picked up by the police and the Wiltshire and Swindon Safety Camera Partnership and they will stay where they are!!

The funds released by this decision will be fed into other road safety measures such as sleeping policemen (no comment on Wiltshire's finest!) or additonal signage.

Personally, I feel that growing cabbages by the side of the road would considerably reduce the speed of the Cosworth driving chavs in Swindon, as they will slow down to watch the ladies bending over in their short skirts (Swindon uniform) to pick the said vegetables.

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Lies, damned lies and.......

So the figures aren't consistent, correct, empirical or open to discussion? Why would that surprise anyone anymore?

I don't think I'm alone in saying that if I was nicked by a copper with a speed gun then I would at least feel justice is being served in the right way - by a person representing the law and policing road safety in a designated area, to whom I can at least discuss the issue if required - and I have always respected that. But unmanned, static cameras that merely make a rigid, blind and uncaring view, placed in positions of questionable benefit, give me a feeling of being treated less as a citizen and more as an already guilty party who's turn to be 'processed' will come one day.

The stupid thing is, if all the static cameras were placed outside schools with a mandatory 20MPH limit imposed outside, no-one could reasonably argue against that.

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Linux

Rusty Shackleford says'

For goodness sake if you drive around there be careful.

If there are no incidents when the greed scamera's are removed it will send the right message to our political overlords.

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Reggression to the mean

"a statistical quantification of the common-sense view that where a speed camera has been set up due to above-average casualties in a previous time period, some of that "before-the-camera" increase was little more than random fluctuation"

Not strictly true. What it actually means is that if you have a statistically abnormal event, such as a higher number of accidents in a given period, then the number of accidents in the next period will necessarily be lower as a direct result of the previous period having a higher number.

So, it's not so much that the increase was due to a random fluctuation, it could have been any down to any number of factors such a new shop opening next door, a broken street light or whatever, it's that the decrease has nothing to do with the event of installing the speed camera and everything with the fact that the previous period, by definition, was a high point in the total history of accidents at that spot.

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Alert

education

since we seem to teach children nothing these days except how to vote on x factor and to be scared of the internet (which every child MUST have).... wouldn't it be better to only teach people about statistics since they seem to be the basis of most policy / spin and decision making.

However, as you article and most people who a basic grasp of maths knows, statistics can be used to show just about anything... for instance if you do the mean in the right way, the average number of legs i have is just one!

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Fecking Winkers

I sent an email to the governments road saftey department asking them for an explanation as to why they associate road safety exclusively with drivers (male and female). Bad lighting and bad road conditions (potholes, dips, shit tarmac'ing) must play a huge role in accidents - yet this 'safety' department does nothing to lobby the government on safety factors which are *outside* of the drivers control. We pay our road tax so why don't we get good roads?? Maybe it's because only 33% of road tax is actually spent on, well, roads? I've asked them to justify this too. They've not responded to either point.

Speed cameras are a crock of shit. Half of them don't contain film (though that is changing with networked cameras that stream footage to a server). The government just wants more revenue. At a time when Mr. Brown (eye) wants to increase the national debt, and indeed when Labour is up to their guts in debt themselves.... they invent statistics to justify their greedy schemes. Winkers. The lot of them.

If they really cared about speeding from a people-impact perspective then they'd give away free GPS boxes to drivers which beep-beep-beep in a really annoying way when you exceed the speed limits in a given area. Mine does this already, though I did have to pay £300 for it. They don't care about the people-impact. They care about the ££. they need to make ££ to feed their fat-army of civil servants and of course to keep John Lewis in business.

I wonder if Mr Brown and his wife have the same property aspirations as the Blairs....

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Anonymous Coward

Speed doesn't kill, the driver does!

Speed doesn't kill, the person who's behind the steering wheel kills.

Its quite simple, bring motoring back to an elitist transportation option and accidents/deaths will drop to nothing.

How might this be achieved? Simple, get caught breaking any motoring law and loose your license, never to be returned. Bring in compulsory retesting every year, just like an MOT for a car. Ban driving as a profession and don't allow it as any part of a job, which will instantly stop "white van man". "How would buses be driven and goods be transported?" I hear you cry, very simple, have government trained officials to drive these vehicles, if they break any laws etc they loose their job never to return to a similar profession again.

Immediate changes can be brought in swiftly by banning foreign drivers and foreign vehicles. Limiting the number of vehicles over 3.5 tonnes by 65%.

In this day and age we should be working from home, shopping locally (within 3 miles of our home) and using public transport such as buses and trains.

How hard is it to get a commercial airline pilots license? Very hard is the answer. Yet flying one (badly or expertly) is very easy, to the point of being easier than driving a car. So why isn't it harder to get a bike, car, van, lorry or towing license?

Over 60% of existing drivers should not be allowed to drive, simple as that, and the sooner these morons accept their license-less fate the better. Personally, I'd count myself as one of the morons, I really shouldn't be allowed to drive, I'm an idiot behind the wheel and its only a matter of time before I end up either killing someone or myself, and no amount of traffic calming or speed camera's or any safety equipment will stop me unless they have some form of physical barrier to stop the car or me.

Now, if I had no license, and thus no insurance, then of course I wouldn't bother, it would be too great a risk, I'd just go back to cycling and using public transport. And I certainly wouldn't ask the wife to drive me everywhere.

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Joke

How can 13% of all fatal casualties in 2007 be due to exceeding the speed limit?

I would have though it was the stopping too quickly that cause the injuries...

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police claim

can i point out something people seem to have missed

the police said speed was a factor in 13% of FATAL accidents

the department of transport said speed was a factor in 6% ACCIDENTS

can people please note the difference in these statistics before they try and compare them

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Stop

Re: Lies, damned lies and.......

Unfortunately that wouldn't work, because we all slow down when passing dangerous areas anyway (when was the last time you drove past a school at 30mph during kicking out time?) so there'd be no profit. We'd still (as taxpayers) be picking up the bill to operate the camera though :(

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It doesn't matter.....

....this government love cameras and Big Gordon is watching you.

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Anonymous Coward

Good for Swindon

However, the councilman will likely face retailiation by the rozzers.

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Go

I wonder if

anyone who fancies a bit of experimenting might like to turn up at crash sites with a bunch of bananas, then when the rate of accidents falls you would indeed then be able to prove that bananas reduce accidents.

I think renaming Speed cameras to iCam, iPhoto or some other nonsense and painting them white would certainly reduce the speed with all the Apple muppets slowing down to gawp at the things. Some would probably pay the fine even if they weren't caught!!

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I'm sure there's a name

For a system of laws in which the police carry out actions irrespective of the wishes of elected officials. Hang on 'til I check my newspeak dictionary....

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how much???

Hang on - the annual maintenance for three cameras is £320,000 ?

Now /thats/ a fuzzy figure - or rather a ludicrous one.

It'd be cheaper to pay a dozen unemployed brickies to stand in more places and write down numberplates of people passing too quickly. Not only that but they could note down the morons talking on phones, with 8 kids in a 5-seater, with unrestrained animals in the car, tailgating, weaving through the traffic, with defective cars etc. Y'know, like real police are supposed to do.

You could even call them something snazzy like Community Support Officers...

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There is a lot of fun to be had on the A68 north of the border..

There's nothing I like more than a bit of hog-baiting by riding my high performance motorcycle towards Gatsos on the A68. The A68 is over-populated with them. This is guaranteed to trigger the camera which, is met with one of Winston's finest salutes....or a derivative of. Not having a forward facing numberplate effectively makes me immune to detection. I've been doing it for 10 yrs now.

...oh and I haven't had a fatality either thereby proving a point.....

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Stop

speed camera whiners

Isn't it unfair when you get in trouble for breaking the law?

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Anonymous Coward

You can...

.. in effect kill someone doing 10mph in a 30mph zone, Placing a speed camera there to stop people speeding, only stops.. well.. people speeding. You hit someone even doing the speed limit chances are they are going to die or be seriously injured.

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Re: Do you know what DOES reduce accidents?

I regularly drive to Lincoln along a road with signs that show the number of fatalities that year which are nothing more than a distraction.

What slows me down is approaching a corner and seeing skid marks leading to a car shaped whole in the hedge.

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£320,000 it pays annually towards just three fixed cameras

For the same amount, ten people could be paid a GOOD wage for standing at the roadside with a camera.

And being multi-purpose, they could do more than just go "speeding" "not speeding", they can go "drunk as a skunk" too.

Just have them stand in the rain and take piccies.

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Coat

@Ash

A friend of mine once commented, "Oh look, it must be the lamp-post's birthday!"

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Anonymous Coward

Why do they do it?

I'm sure it's been said thousands of times - they go after speeding because they can - it's easy. Conveniently, it also raises revenue. Speed is a factor (speed is always a factor, since if the vehicle was stationary, there'd be no accident, and no bloody point, of course) but so often not stated is that the primary cause of an accident is a driver making a serious error of judgement. Other causitive agents, including distractions, fatigue, poor visibility (save fog), road conditions, etc., are hardly ever reported and almost never debated.

It seems the statistics, when properly understood, tell us what we've 'known' through common sense for some time - that speed is not quite the demon it's been made out to be and that speed control measures aren't anywhere near as effective as they're supposed to be. Both, however, cause angst and divert resources from other measures that may well be more effective, and fairer.

I don't advocate "stupid" speeding or street racing - both very dangerous - but rather, as I was taught from day one by my driving instuctor, I say that driving to the conditions is far more important than obeying a sign, and if the driver's behaviour was reasonable given the conditions, then he or she should not be pursued by the law.

I'm heartily sick of a minority of people trying to decide what's right for all people all of the time, when they can't possibly perfectly predict future circumstances or what is optimum, and then tell us that there's "zero tolerance" to any alternative.

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re: police claim

And if these cameras reduced the number of fatal accidents by 50% then there are just as many people being killed by fatal accidents when speeding as used to be merely harmed or killed by speeding before them. 7% vs 6%.

14% is only worthwhile if there's been a less than 50% reduction in fatal accidents.

And in that case, are the cameras helping as much as the money going elsewhere would?

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Unhappy

Re: Do you know what DOES reduce accidents?

Actually Ash, that's completely untrue. It's been shown in studies (can't find 'em now but have read them - honest!) that these road-side memorials CAUSE accidents. The police are constantly asking people not to do it. You get the rubber necking effect, people braking too hard. There have even been really tragic accidents when those placing flowers have stopped their car in a dangerous spot and have been seriously injured or killed whilst placing the flowers or whilst getting in/out of the car.

It's a hard one, 'cause you can't really tell some grieving parent/widow/widower etc. NOT to place flowers at the site of their loved ones tragic death but it DOES cause accidents.

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Anonymous Coward

@Gareth re: the police said speed was a factor in 13% of FATAL accidents

Both stats are wrong.

Speed is a factor in 100% of ALL accidents...

If nothings moving at all, then you cant have one.

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Stop

Roadworks are much better at preventing speeding

As someone who travels up the A419, I can attest that speeding has been eradicated by Swindon Council at the Turnpike roundabout. £320 000 buys an awful lot of cones.... Think of the new and interesting chicanes which can be put in. Perhaps a mobile PifPaf on the A428 just before a mobile speed camera, then they could nick drivers who fancied themselves as Swindons answer to Lewis Hamilton.

I also think that the recently burnt out speed camera at the Turnpike, which has now been removed, has the same effect of slowing down traffic as rubbernecking at an accident.

Stop sign as that is the best way of slowing down speeders.

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Nic
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Self involved commentards

Those spouting the usual crap about why don't they catch real criminals, cash machines etc. sound completely idiotic and irresponsible.

If your child was run over by someone speeding you would soon change your tune.

When you are awarded a licence to drive on the public highways you are given permission to move roughly a tonne of metal and glass at speed through areas populated by flesh and bone bodies. It doesn't take a genius to work out that you should operate them within the constraints of a speed limiting system and take great care. The concept that when you see an empty road you should/can put your foot down is idiotic and irresponsible.

The government is YOUR government. If you are not happy with it run for something and stop armchair prophesying. Any income from speed cameras comes from people breaking the law. You don't need to do it. You can opt not to fund speed cameras by simply not speeding. If you can't do that then don't drive or at least don't drive anywhere near my kids.

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The Register is just as fuzzy?

Just in case we hadn’t got the message, he added: "Nationally 13 per cent of all fatal casualties in 2007 were due to exceeding the speed limit." This figure is rather different from the one quoted by Peter Greenhalgh, the Tory councillor behind the idea, who said annual figures from the Department for Transport published in September showed just six per cent of collisions had been caused by people breaking speed limits.

Erm, those stats are different because they're measuring different things.

One is measuring collisions, the other is measuring fatalities. To use an example; if a little girl runs out in front of me, I'd probably hit her if I was doing 30 or 80. The collision wasn't caused by speeding. However at 30, it would be unlikely to be a fatal collision whilst at 80 the little girl would stand no chance. The speeding caused the fatality but not the collision.

If you're going to call people out on manipulating stats, it's best to try and avoid doing the same by comparing non-like stats.

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Tim
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Speed cameras - Bring 'em on

What's the problem with using speed cameras as a cynical revenue raising measure anyway? Let's not forget these cameras only catch people who are BREAKING THE LAW.

If the government has to raise a certain amount of revenue, I would rather they taxed people who choose to break the law more than those who don't. And while we're at it, let's get rid of all the warning signs and have the cameras properly camouflaged so that people can't just slow down for 100 yards and then start driving ILLEGALLY again once they're past the camera. That would raise even more tax.

I'm sick of this popular opinion that, for speeding offences it's ok to break the law as long as you can get away with it? We wouldn't accept that for any other area of law.

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speeding or fast buck ?

Look here everyone if speed was the real cause of stupid humans running across a motorway or crossing the road without looking, what the gov would do is introduce (SPEND MONEY) on a system where by your car would only go as fast as the maximum speed limit.

They would approach car companies and say we have max limit of 70 anything above that is illegal

But no they don't want to do this because they don't want to drive away big business as well as it wont be a stealth tax no longer, since it would have to spend their own money to keep those dumb humans safe from harm.

I wonder why they do not overestimate crime figures or overestimate jobless figures as much

AHH its not to their favour now is it meanwhile this is.... typical really I dont trust not 1 politrician or plod.. their all as bad as the mafia

The truth is speed camera's are a case for more accidents "The amount of times I have had to break sharp or been behind someone who has breaked sharply to miss a speeding ticket well that it self was a near accident no more needs to be said.

If only they

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Silver badge

Blunt instrument

The whole 'speed limit' thing is a very blunt instrument to tackle a complex issue. Someone earlier suggested that no-one would complain about cameras in a 20mph zone outside a school. But why should there be a 20mph limit outside a school at 2am on a Sunday morning during the school holidays? Surely we should use the technology to have variable speed limits with the posted limit being adjusted according to a pattern and displayed on those nice electronic limit signs. Then the school could have a 20mph limit at starting and leaving times (Mon-Fri, term time only) 30mph during the rest of the day and 60mph after 10pm or somesuch. Lolipop ladies/gents are only on duty at appropriate times, why aren't 20mph zones only there at appropriate times as well? (Or is a 24/7 20mph zone cheaper than paying a lolipop bod?)

And with variable limits we're all much more likely to actually check the signs and be aware of the current limit - a lot of low-level speeding is due to people pottering along with their mind on other things, along roads they're familiar with, and they just aren't particularly conscious that they are speeding - the road is clear and dry, there are no children playing etc, so people automatically drive at a 'safe speed'. Personally I'd feel safer with drivers keeping a safe distance, and an eagle eye on what's going on and doing 35 in a 30mph limit, than someone who does 29 but has his eyes glued to the speedo for fear of cameras rather than watching out for hazards. Of course there are still the nutters....hanging's too good for them!

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Boffin

@Phil

" if you have a statistically abnormal event, such as a higher number of accidents in a given period, then the number of accidents in the next period will necessarily be lower "

Not quite

There is a greater probability that it will be lower because probability is highest at the mean and lower as you get away from it.

However, all such statistical analysis suffers from the same problem in that the statistics tend to be analysed in relative isolation from the world. Also, rtm assumes that you know what the mean is and that the mean has any real value as a comparison. I doubt that the mean level of accidents over the UK is of any real world value at all because of local conditions.

There are loads of effects that can contribute. One is traffic levels at the site and in the surrounding area and over time. School holidays, a long sunny spell, disruption or major changes to public transport provision can affect traffic levels as can temporary roadworks, permanent changes to the road layout at the site or elsewhere in the area. And the effect of traffic levels isn't a clear relationship either to speed or accidents. Very low traffic levels can lead to high speeds through an area but low accidents. Very high traffic levels can lead to crawling traffic and low accidents. The highest accident point is highly likely to be somewhere between those two points. It would, however, be a mistake to think that would lead to a curve.

The only sensible approach to traffic management is to undertake schemes based on the local conditions and not statistical analysis. As we should all know following the financial events of the last few weeks reliance on number crunching without applying empirical knowledge never ever leads to a good outcome.

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Boffin

@Nigel the Wright Twat

That'll be because the GATSO camera is designed to take pictures of the REAR of the offending vehicle. It's not 'smart' enough to discern direction, just speed.

Presumably, you've only been baiting the cameras facing towards you. Let's see you do the same trick with half a dozen that are on your side of the road...

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@AC

So if I were to shop within 3 miles of my home I think I could probably buy a tree...what a completely and utterly useless suggestion. Obviously you are a townie. Try living in the countryside and be told to shop within 3 miles, or using the the 'integrated' public transport system....

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This is more complex than you would think...

Related to the “flowers” post above, is part of human behaviour. If you have a near miss whilst driving, you will be especially careful for a while. As a result, in theory, dangerous bits of road decrease accidents in the surrounding area (you drive away concerned about the state of your underwear, and if your heart still functions. You are careful not to do that again). A reducto ad absurdum argument would be that the safest road safety measure would be to remove ABS, seatbelts, airbags, crumplezones and whatever, and stick a four inch metal spike in the middle of the steering wheel. Very few people would take any risk at all - no road incidents whatsoever.

The book “Risk” by John Adams (ISBN 1857280687) is worth a read on this. It’s a little old, but a fascinating study into how useless most of the statistics mentioned in this article and comments are for making decisions.

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@Nic

Give us half a chance to get rid of the government and we will stand or just vote them out....seems to me this government knows it's on a looser and is just hanging on as long as it can.

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How...

is it that even by the Police Forces inflated figure of 12% of we are so obsessed with the speeding factor in accidents? Presumably the 78% being not being addressed don't matter?

Oh how silly it's not about road safety it's really about road revenue and nothing else.

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Anonymous Coward

@Bassey Excellent Point

I would also like to add:

How crazy to put a granite block on a frass verge where a motorcyclist ended up and died, ready for the next one who gets it wrong and comes off to smash his head on??

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11mph

You've got to be going pretty fast to kill somebody.

The average speed that pedestrians are hit in a 30mph zone is 11mph. Basically because people do tend to brake when they see someone in front of them.

If you're going 30 and hit somebody at 30, there's got to be something pretty wrong with your reactions ie. drugs/drink.

In theory, the 30mph speed limit could be raised to 40 and the accident rate wouldn't change much if you removed all the drink, drugged and tired drivers from the streets.

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Thank you El Reg...

...for confirming irrefutably that:

1) Speed kills

2) Speed cameras work

Only the criminals (i.e. those breaking the speed limit) need fear the camera. If you get caught, it's your own fault.

Speed kills. Slow down, the life you save may be your own or that of someone you love.

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Flowers

"The police are constantly asking people not to do it. You get the rubber necking effect, people braking too hard. There have even been really tragic accidents when those placing flowers have stopped their car in a dangerous spot and have been seriously injured or killed whilst placing the flowers or whilst getting in/out of the car."

Not true. Don't you remember the fake memorials the police started to put up to make people think?

Flowers by a roadside are no different from billboard ads. You don't see ads being removed!

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Anonymous Coward

Solution

1) Teach people to drive properly. Less concentrating on maneuvering and more concentration on how to actually drive a car on a road. The fact that there is nothing on the syllabus covering what to do in the event of an accident, or what to do if your vehicle starts to slide or aquaplane, or how to bring your vehicle safely to a stop in the event of a mechanical failure of some kind.

I personally think how to change a tire and what dashboard lights mean should be covered too.

2) Keep the cameras, but remove their ability to put points on your license. Make it clear that they are a revenue stream first, and that any benefits they provide are entirely incidental. Then use the money they generate to HIRE REAL TRAFFIC POLICE and have them actually enforce the other driving laws. We'd see a marked reduction in accidents then, I suspect, as the old foreign plates cop out wouldn't be effective anymore. People might start indicating properly, and giving way occasionally then too.

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@Nic

I promise not to drive next to your kids if you promise not to let them play in the road, you ball bag.

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@ bikertards (simon, nigel wright)

As the only self proclaimed bikers in these comments also appear to believe in speeding, it is clear that 100% of bikers are speed freak knobheads and that the simplest way to reduce speeding incidents in the UK will be to ban, with immediate effect, every motorbike. I challenge anyone to dispute my statistics.

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