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Speed cameras – lifesavers or money makers?

This year, the humble speed camera celebrates its 20th anniversary in the UK. Ever since the first Gatso was switched on (facing westbound on the A316 over Twickenham bridge in Surrey), their purpose has been hotly debated. This article takes a brief look at this controversial technology, and some of the arguments for and against their use.

The powers that be have always touted speed cameras as a device to slow drivers down when approaching road blackspots, and some might argue the evidence over the past 20 years supports this. Research by the Department for Transport (DfT) found that speeding is reduced by 70% at camera sites, and that they decrease deaths and serious injuries by 42% [1].

Not only do they save lives, they save us a lot of money. The DfT says the cost of one road traffic fatality is £1,638,390, and the bill for a serious injury is £185,000. The average cost across all casualties is £52,850 [2].

In 2011 alone, 1,901 people were killed on UK roads [3]. Ignoring all other non-fatal accidents, this equates to a whopping £3.1 billion! Surely, given this compelling evidence, speed cameras are justified inconveniences for law abiding motorists? And even though it is estimated that speed cameras generate around £100 million for the Treasury each year, this is somewhat of a shortfall from the cost of casualties.

Whilst not all road accidents are due to speeding, the argument so far seems clear – speed cameras are a justifiable way to reduce accidents and save money. What’s more, given their effectiveness, one could argue that they should be used more on UK roads?

Some opponents argue that speed cameras actually cause accidents, due to motorists braking harshly or otherwise behaving in an erratic manner when they first catch sight of one. Others say that most cameras aren’t in fact installed at accident blackspots, but rather on stretches of road where they are most likely to catch motorists unawares.

The central view of most opponents seems to be that speed cameras have no benefit other than to make money for central government. With no shortage of press coverage [4], you can understand why.

While most agree that measures must be taken to reduce road accidents, how this is achieved will most likely be debated for another 20 years.

What do you think? Do you think speed cameras have had, and will continue to have a role in reducing fatalities and serious injuries on our roads? Are there other ways safer driving could be promoted?

If you would like to share your opinions, please leave your comments below.


  1. http://www.brake.org.uk/facts/speed-cameras.htm
  2. http://www.dft.gov.uk/webtag/documents/archive/1104/unit3.4.1.pdf
  3. http://www.dft.gov.uk/statistics/releases/reported-road-casualties-gb-main-results-2011/
  4. For an example visit http://www.echonews.co.uk/news/local_news/9781564.Drivers_caught_on_camera_fined___33k/?ref=nt
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