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Speed cameras are not a 'cash cow', insists Shropshire's deputy police commissioner

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Shropshire's deputy police and crime commissioner Barrie Sheldon has denied accusations that speed cameras are a "cash cow".

Mr Sheldon said most money raised went to central government and money kept locally went straight back into road safety work.

In a policing career spanning more than 40 years, Mr Sheldon says there is one issue which has been a constant bone of contention.

Whether it is villagers complaining about motorists driving too fast past their houses, or people complaining about excessive use of speed cameras, few issues spark more fierce controversy than that of speed enforcement.

"It's something people get very passionate about, whatever side of the argument they are on," says West Mercia Police's deputy police and crime commissioner.

Now, Mr Sheldon, who joined the police in 1972, says he now wants to dispel some of the myths surrounding the subject.

"I realise speed cameras are extremely divisive things for many people," he says.

  • Speeding fines generated a total income of £6,393,695 during 2013/14
  • Fixed penalty fines earned £2,478,840, which went to the Treasury
  • An estimated £450,000 was also raised through court fines. This also went to the Treasury
  • Fees for speed awareness courses generated a total of £1,834,335
  • Of the money raised by speeding courses, 201,815 went to the companies which ran the the courses
  • The remaining £1,426,705 went to West Mercia Police

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"On the one hand we get communities telling us they desperately want more of them locally, and on the other drivers complain about them.

"I would say right away though that they are certainly not anything we profit from in local policing."

There was controversy this month when Bedfordshire's police and crime commissioner Olly Martins proposed a new 'zero tolerance' policy on speeding, saying it was needed to generate revenue for the force.

"We have lobbied the Home Office for fair funding but they have not listened so I am forced to come up with new ways of raising revenue," said Mr Martins.

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"If it is a question of reducing the force by 25 officers or introducing this scheme, then I am going to go for this every time. Strict enforcement of the speed limit could raise as much as £1 million, so it is something I have to take seriously."

However, Mr Sheldon points out that while many people accuse police of using motorists as a cash cow, only a comparatively small proportion of that money actually goes to the force.

"In West Mercia between April 2013 and March 2014, a total of 82,249 vehicles were captured exceeding the speed limit. In total over £6 million was raised through speeding fines within West Mercia."

He says that of the 82,249 drivers caught, 29,000 elected to pay a fixed penalty, raising just under £2.5 million, which went direct to the Treasury. A further 3,433 chose to go to court, raising approximately £450,000, which again went to central government, and 9,053 cases were dropped for various reasons.

Barrie Sheldon, West Mercia's deputy police and crime commissioner

However, 40,763 people opted to attend speed awareness courses, and this is where it is possible for police forces to make money.

In West Mercia, drivers will pay £85 to attend the courses and avoid points on their licence. Of this amount, £50 will go to the company which operates the course, while £35 will go to the local police.

Mr Sheldon says: "This totals £3,464,855, with £1,426,705 of this being returned to West Mercia Police which is used solely for road safety purposes and to fund the Safer Roads Partnership."

Mr Sheldon says that where camera vans are deployed the area has been identified as one where more than 15 per cent of motorists have been found to be speeding.

He says that when a complaint is made about speeding in a particular area, the Safer Roads Partnership – which usually includes the police, local council and other agencies – will carry out a survey to see how often the limit is being exceeded.

"On occasions the analysis will show that there is not a speeding a problem but the perception of some local people is that there is," he says.

"If 85 per cent of the vehicles using the road are not exceeding the speed limit, the Safer Roads Partnership will not carry out enforcement."

He says this can often annoy residents, who ask why the police are not tackling the 15 per cent of drivers who are breaking the law.

"It is worth noting that there are over 800 towns, and villages in West Mercia which can create a capacity problem and priority will always be given to high harm areas," says Mr Sheldon.

The way police tackle speeding drivers is a subject that evokes strong emotions, and there will be people who are unhappy, he says.

"The fact is, there really isn't any hidden agenda around speeding. The laws and enforcement work are purely about trying to make people and communities safer, and a lot of work is going into that."

And he says people should remember that speeding is one of the so-called 'fatal four' killers on our roads, along with drink or drug-driving, not wearing seat belts and using mobile phones.

"The financial costs to the public are eye-watering, estimated at an average of £884,000 per fatal investigation, although the Audit Commission estimates the average total cost to society at around £1.9 million.Those figures clearly demonstrate why there are financial incentives for all of us in reducing speeding, and consequently the number of road fatalities," he says.

"The biggest costs though are naturally to the families who lose loved ones in road accidents, particularly when those tragedies can be avoided. We want to prevent that heartbreak wherever we can."

Barrie Sheldon on speed cameras:

Over the past 20 years, the increased use of speed cameras has proved to be one of the most controversial ways of enforcing speed restrictions.

Guidelines laid down by the National Police Chiefs Council, which allow motorists a tolerance of 10 per cent plus 2mph over the speed limit before they are normally prosecuted.

If they are caught driving within a margin of 10 per cent plus 9mph over the speed limit, they will usually be offered the chance to attend a speed awareness course in place of prosecution.

Motorists who use the A49, A5 and B4368 might be surprised to hear them being classified as 'safe'. But that is the conclusion of a new survey, which suggests they are freer from danger than many other roads in the UK.

The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety arrived at its conclusion after assessing casualty rates on routes around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It decided that stretches of road through Ludlow and Shrewsbury and Atcham were among the safest in the country, while those in other parts of the county were also less likely to feature fatal or serious accidents than roads elsewhere.

Such news is both a blessing and a curse. It is heartening to know Shropshire does not top the poll for the UK's most dangerous roads. The county's road network is important to residents and commerce alike. They need a high quality transport infrastructure to go about their daily business. The knowledge that our roads are safer than most provides some sort of comfort.

But the fact that our road connections are among the safest means Highways England will have little incentive to prioritise road improvement schemes. The hopes that some might have for positive changes are unlikely to be realised if there are higher priorities in other parts of the UK.

The state of our roads is never far from the local agenda. And this week Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski will lead a Commons debate on improving routes in Shropshire. His remarks will be made against the backdrop of an ongoing campaign to upgrade the A5 between Shrewsbury and Oswestry.

The notion that our roads are fine will be challenged by many commuters. They know that potential accidents lurk around every corner. Indeed, there are strong arguments to say that stretches of road like the A49 and the A5 require urgent attention. Surveys such as this should not be used to dismiss concerns.

Of course, it is not necessarily the roads that are dangers: rather, it is the drivers who use them. More must be done to encourage drivers to become more responsible and more risk-averse.

Complacency is the enemy of safe driving. It is vital to remain alert to the dangers and to drive to the conditions. The findings of the survey are interesting, but in Shropshire we must keep pushing to upgrade our road network.

"People have on many occasions challenged the accuracy and reliability of speed cameras," he says.

Each device used undergoes rigorous testing before use and a UK Type Approval certificate is required from the Secretary of State before it can be used to gather evidence.

On motorway cameras:

There has been much controversy about the use of 'stealth' average speed cameras on so-called 'smart' motorways, which are painted in an inconspicuous grey, rather than high-visibility yellow.

These cameras are installed by Highways England rather than the police, and are only used when four lane running is adopted and gantry signing displayed showing a reduced speed limit.

Mr Sheldon says these have contributed to a large increase in drivers being fined for speeding, but adds that it is likely we will be seeing more of them in future although they will be painted yellow, it has been announced.

He adds that there is also some debate about the use of average speed cameras by Highways England when temporary limits were in place during roadworks.

On community involvment:

Mr Sheldon is a big supporter of Community Speed Watch schemes in West Mercia, which involve members of the community – at least six – being trained to record speeds and pass the details to police.

The force will then write a letter to the owner of the vehicle about their speeding.

"If the same vehicle is reported speeding on a number of occasions the police will take proactive action to catch and convict the driver," he says.

Mr Sheldon says in Market Drayton a local road safety group adopted a range of activities to reduce speed in liaison with their Safer Neighbourhood Policing team. "

The partnership approach is commended and can bring real confidence to a community who are actively involved in resolving road safety issues," he says.

On speeding motorbikes:

Mr Sheldon says Shropshire and the surrounding areas is a haven for motorcyclists, and adds that many thousands of these are sensible, courteous and safety conscious.

"However there is a minority who insist on speeding and some with modified exhaust systems that disturb residents in built up areas particularly when exceeding the speed limit," he says.

"There are too many motorcyclists being killed and seriously injured on the roads and within the last year our neighbours in Dyfed Powys reported an increase in fatalities."

He says education and prevention will play a huge role in tackling this.

One solution may be the use of average speed cameras and dummy cameras, but this would be expensive, with average speed cameras typically costing up to £60,000 to install.

On the future of technology:

Mr Sheldon says technology could play a vital role in tackling speeding.

"We have seen great strides in the development of technology including CCTV, speed detection devices, and automatic number plate recognition, but could we go further?" he says.

GPS, which essentially tracks cars using the satellites which guide sat-nav systems in our cars, present an opportunity to prevent drivers from speeding.

He says: "The technology, known as intelligent speed adaption links the vehicle to the satellite through a road mapping digital system that has knowledge of speed limits.

"The system can be linked to the vehicle controls to prevent the speed limit from being exceeded

"Fact or fiction? You decide. But consider whether this is a way forward to make our roads safer."

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