Back in the early 1990s I was working for a company which had a very generous car scheme. Not only could you choose pretty much whatever car you liked within a certain price range but the firm paid all your petrol too. In 1992, Vauxhall brought out an even faster version of its already notorious Cavalier SRi. As soon as it appeared on our car list, I went straight up to the fleet manager’s office and ordered one. A red one, of course! I then spent the next three years hurtling around the southern half of the UK at very high speeds. My normal speed was around 95mph but I would often go faster if I was in a hurry or having a race with someone.
Of course, I knew all the stuff about road safety and stopping distances and reaction times and how your chances of getting killed increased with each mph and how bloody irresponsible it was to drive so fast and blah, blah, blah…..Well, you get the picture. Water off a duck’s back. I was a twenty-something twat with a fast car and all the persuasion and rational argument in the world wasn’t going to stop me burning the country’s roads up. Only three things slowed me down; police cars, traffic jams…..and speed cameras. It took the threat being fined and, ultimately, of losing my licence to slow me down.
That’s why I’m more inclined to believe the people who say that speed cameras reduce the number of road accidents than those who claim they make no difference. OK, I’m judging everyone else by my own low standards but there is a hardcore group of drivers who will only slow down if there is a high probability of getting caught for speeding. Speed cameras have hugely increased that probability.
But now, it seems, the yellow boxes are to be axed after the government cut the road safety grants to councils. It also seems that, despite what critics used to claim, they were not a revenue-raising scam for councils at all. All the money raised went to central government.
But if the Coalition really believed in localism then shouldn’t it hand over the revenue from speed cameras to the local authorities? Why not let councils decide how many cameras to have and how big the fines should be?
I never really understood the objection from some sections of the motoring lobby that speed cameras were simply a way of raising revenue. What’s wrong with that? The principle that people who break the law should pay more tax than those who don’t sounds like a damned good one to me.
If local authorities could raise millions from taking money off people who are arrogant enough to think that speed limits don’t apply to them, then other people wouldn’t have to pay as much council tax and some local services which might otherwise be cut could be saved. In a time when council budgets are about to be severely cut, a new source of revenue would be a welcome boost. It’s very ‘Big Society’ too – the people who don’t give a toss fund the work of those who do.
Road safety considerations are only one argument for keeping speed cameras. At a time when tax revenues have declined, surely getting rid of such a lucrative source of revenue is madness. A government that really believed in localism would hand over the yellow boxes to the local councils to do with as they wished. Local electorates could then choose whether they wanted to keep the cameras and how big the fines should be.
Tax the boy-racers to pay for school books. Make the middle-aged Clarkson types pay to keep the day centres open – after all, they’ll be needing them soon enough. I reckon a lot of voters might go for this idea. But would the government be brave enough to give them the choice?