As a law-abiding citizen (for the most part) and having had a clean driving licence for the best part of two decades, it was irksome to get two speeding fines in the space of just 18 months. The circumstances were the same on both occasions. They were on broad roads with hardly another vehicle in sight, it was dry and bright, they weren’t residential areas and there wasn’t a school in sight. But there were speed cameras.
That was the annoying bit. I wasn’t being reckless, 46mph in a 40 zone and 35mph in a 30, and no threat to the commonwealth as far as I could tell. But speed cameras aren’t subjective. Rain or shine, day or night, cross the line and you’re guilty, black or white.
Back in the days when I was a boy racer there people called traffic police and if you over-stepped the mark there would be a flashing blue light in your rear view mirror and you’d be pulled over. Winding down your window, a uniformed head would lean in to sniff for beer fumes and ask, “Do you know how fast you were going sir?” (Sir? And me barely shaving and dressed in tank-top and flairs.)
This was the second panic point. Do you say no and so confess that you weren’t paying attention, or answer yes and own up to be knowingly speeding. A diplomatic prolonged “Errr…” usually did the trick and one of two results followed. 1) the bobby knew whether what you had done was really out of order and you got a ticket or 2) you’d slightly transgressed so you got a bollocking and let off with a, “If I catch you again” warning.
You don’t get that with cameras do you? No personal touch, no subjective decision-making, but I sighed at the injustice of it all and signed the cheques for £60 each, reassured that speed cameras make the roads a safer place. Except they don’t.
I read this article over at the Telegraph today by the authors of Scared to Death: The Anatomy of a Very Dangerous Phenomenon. I don’t get off on the stealth tax argument: if speed cameras did what was promised in reducing death on the roads, I’d be all for it even if it cost me £60 every 18 months or so, or even my licence, but if the above is to be believed, speed cameras have actually hampered road safety.
Sounds like one for the Christmas list.