Speed cameras on London's roads have become part of the street scenery, reminding drivers to slow down or risk a fine. Motorists condemn them as 'cash cows' while road safety groups love them, but where is London's most profitable speed camera?
We found the answer in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Metropolitan Police, which lists all speeding fines between June 2014 and May 2015. We've mapped the top 20.
London's most profitable speed camera
Motorists using the A1203 Limehouse Link in east London should be easing up on that leaden right foot — the speed camera in the westbound side of the tunnel issued a tremendous 17,110 tickets. It's a total that startled us somewhat, especially when you consider the fines for the eastbound side only came to 4,029 for the same 12 month period. Why the huge difference?
Obviously, the bottom line is that people are driving too fast. But other contributory factors include higher speed limits on the westbound approach, whereas on the eastbound side, there's a set of traffic lights just before the tunnel and a 30mph limit along The Highway. The road through the tunnel itself is dual-lane, and the high positioning of the cameras make them less visible. Add all this together and the reason for the camera's profitability start to become a bit clearer.
Thinking of challenging that ticket? Government guidelines around speed limits and enforcement also played a part in that envelope landing on your doormat. In the UK, there are actually just three automatic speed limits — 30mph on roads signed by street lights, 60mph on a single carriageway without street lights, and 70mph on a motorway.
Local authorities who want to vary these limits have to get permission from the Department for Transport (DfT) and put up signs that give ‘adequate guidance’ under the S85 Road Traffic Act. This basically means that the only signage required should be sufficient to alert any reasonable motorist to a speed reduction or increase. The repeater signs approaching the Limehouse Link are small, but they're there, and any competent motorist is expected to see them. So you can forget about going out with your tape measure to check distances between repeater signs.
Further back along the A13 near Barking, it's average speed cameras which trap the unwary. The speed limit drops from National Speed Limit (NSL) — or 70mph — to 50mph. While there are warning signs that average speed monitoring is in place, how many of us have been travelling through a similar zone, only to have another motorist overtake and hit the brakes before the camera? It happens often enough to suggest that a lot of people don't understand how average speed cameras (SPECS) work. The Barking cameras netted 1,371 motorists who didn't slow down in time.
If we head west, the second most profitable speed camera in London can be found on the A4 Cromwell Road westbound by Marloes Road. In fact, anyone driving on the Cromwell Road should keep their eyes peeled because it's positively festooned with cameras — there are three alone in one short section which made it into our top 20. Once again, it's a clear-sighted road with two-lanes either way. There are pavements either side so most people (we hope) would expect it to be 30mph and drive accordingly. But 5,700 drivers didn't and got their fine in the post.
In north London, a camera on the Bounds Green Road eastbound caught 2,779 motorists. One of the area's main thoroughfares, it's a wide, open road with two lanes along some stretches. Sutton's London Road in the south west is a pretty similar layout but a camera near Glyn Road snapped significantly fewer at 1,296.
Should a speed camera be considered successful if it catches a lot of motorists? Obviously, road safety groups and the police would argue that it does. But others believe a camera should be used as a deterrent to prevent people speeding rather than issue a fine after the fact. Last year, Tim Shallcross, from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) told the Telegraph:
The whole purpose of speed cameras is to slow people down, because it's felt that excessive speed in that area causes casualties. If a camera is issuing a small number of fines, or none at all, it's doing its job. If it's ticketing that many people, it's not having that effect.
The local authority, which is responsible for road safety, should be looking at those figures and saying ‘we seem to have an issue here — the camera is catching a lot of people’.
Let's make sure that it looks like a 30mph highway, and that the cameras are clearly visible and the signs aren't obscured by vegetation.
While there are contributory reasons for some speed cameras making more money than others, there are still people who are careless, drive too fast and don't pay attention to what's going on around them. It hardly needs to be said that even where speed isn't a direct cause of accidents, it's likely to exacerbate any injuries or damage.
Transport for London (TfL) is just one group looking at ways to slow drivers down and give priority to other road users. Shared space has previously had good results on the basis that it makes drivers more cautious, but with the unexpected side-effect of making roads more dangerous for the blind. Changing motorists' attitudes could also be key; an insurance company survey last year suggested that just 8% of people admitted to speeding in a built-up area.
With all these speed cameras, we'd be forgiven for thinking excess speed was the number one cause of road accidents in London. The DfT reported in 2014 that drivers and riders failing to look properly was the single biggest contributory cause at a total of 11,076. By comparison, exceeding the speed limit or travelling too fast for the conditions accounted for respectively 518 and 803 accidents. It's a lot harder to set up a camera to catch people not using proper observation on the roads though.
Hand in hand with accidents goes the cost of preventing them and how the UK compares with other countries. We asked the RAC Foundation, which told us that the UK is one of the world leaders in terms of road safety, and its rate for child fatalities is well below the European average. To put that into monetary terms, we spent £14bn in 2013 alone on preventing accidents. In London, fewer people were killed or seriously injured in 2013 than the previous year, and despite the increase in cycling, it's still pedestrians who are more likely to be involved in an accident.
Speed cameras and other traffic enforcement monitoring, along with over-proliferation of street furniture, poor signage and road markings all make driving in London a bit of a challenge, even for experienced motorists. Chuck in the sharing of road space with buses, taxis, cyclists and pedestrians and it's little wonder that car usage is declining. If you do drive in London, avoid the Limehouse Link westbound or just drive really, really slowly.