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Begg -v- Smith in the North Wales Daily Post
Do speed cameras save lives?

 
Introduction

When the North Wales Daily Post asked us to make the case against speed cameras we were very happy to oblige. They also asked David Begg of CfIT to make the opposite case. The two articles appeared on 29th September 2003.

We have also written to David Begg challenging some of his claims (below). The North Wales Daily Post have asked for comments to: letterswales@dailypost.co.uk. We will publish letters and any developments here on this page.

New: follow up letters: see below.

New: An inadequate reply from CfIT.

New: An another inadequate reply from CfIT: see below.
 

29th September 2003 
Professor David Begg
CfIT
5th Floor
Romney House
Tufton Street
London
SW1P 3RA
 

Dear Professor Begg,

Article in the North Wales Daily Post

In your recent article for the North Wales Daily Post you trot out some tired and discredited statistics in support of speed cameras. Perhaps you would be kind enough to answer the following questions arising directly from statements in your article:

1) You say around a third of accidents are due to drivers going too fast for the road conditions. Exactly what research do you rely on to support that claim?

2) You say around a third of accidents are due to drivers going too fast for the road conditions. About what percentage of those accident-involved drivers were also exceeding a speed limit? What is your evidence?

3) You say that reducing the mean speed of traffic by 1 mph results in a 7% reduction in fatalities. This is an entirely unjustified conclusion in TRL report number 421. Anyway, we have the speed reduction, but the fatality reduction has failed to materialise. How do you explain that?

4) You say that drivers must recognise their duty to the safety of other road users. I agree. But it is completely barking to suggest that driving within a speed limit can fulfil their duty. There is so much more to it than that. Excessive speed enforcement is tending to replace individual duty with blind and constant obedience to an arbitrary speed limit. Drivers are paying far more attention to speed limit compliance than ever before and they simply have less attention left for other road users.

6) You quote claims of gains of 35% reductions of accidents at speed camera sites. Are you aware that an uncompensated site level regression to the mean benefit illusion is responsible for a large part of the claim? I have written to the report's authors. 

7) Inappropriate speed is indeed a road safety issue. But fully 80% of accidents surveyed on all roads began with speeds of under 30 mph, despite the fact that 38% of those same accidents took place on roads with higher speed limits. (see http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/finance/tsdw-21.asp). It should be quite clear that inappropriate speed within the speed limit is actually a greater concern and this despite 59% of vehicles exceeding 30 mph at sample sites in 30 mph zones in 2002. A major problem with excessive speed limit enforcement is that some drivers get the message that sticking to the speed limit will ensure their safety. Consequently – paradoxically – inappropriate speeds are highly likely to increase with high levels of speed enforcement. 

8) You conclude that we must use speed cameras “because they save lives”. Exactly what research do you rely on to support that assertion?

The existing research is highly inadequate to support blanket speed enforcement as a means of casualty reduction. The national results prove that speed cameras are not saving lives. The logic that slowing drivers down will give them more time to react is superficially attractive but laughably over simplified.

In the UK, we have demonstrated how to make the roads safer with a 50 year beneficial history based around some clear and simple principles. Using those principles we achieved (more or less) the safest roads in the world. It is foolhardy at best and murderous at worst to turn our backs on those sound principles. Yet that is exactly what we are doing.

I would appreciate detailed answers to each of my 8 numbered points.

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours sincerely
 
 

Paul Smith

CC: The North Wales Daily Post
http://www.safespeed.org.uk/begg.html [this page]

8th October 2003 
Professor David Begg
CfIT
5th Floor
Romney House
Tufton Street
London
SW1P 3RA
 

Dear Professor Begg,

Inadequate response

I have received a reply to my letter to you of 29th September 2003 from Richard Mace dated 6th October. It completely fails to address any of the important questions I asked. I expect you will recognise that the reply is inadequate and seek to provide a proper reply.

If Richard Mace’s reply is the best you have to offer, then I suggest that your support for speed camera policy is based on wholly inadequate information and should be suspended immediately. After all my questions were pretty basic.

So which is it? Do you have proper answers or not? 
I look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours sincerely
 
 
 

Paul Smith

CC: The North Wales Daily Post
 Richard Mace 
 http://www.safespeed.org.uk/begg.html

Comment on Richard Mace's letter of 17th October 2003.

What can I say? "The link between speed and accidents"? Are they really this mind numbingly stupid or are they trying to hide the fact that they don't have science to support their policies?

Of course there are "links between speed and accidents". For a start bodies must be moving for a collision to take place, therefore "speed" is a prerequisite for all accidents. Then everybody knows that travelling too fast for the prevailing conditions can be extremely dangerous. In fact you simply have to attempt to travel too fast round just one bend and you WILL crash.

But to extend this to a benefit between speed limit enforcement and accidents is an enormous leap which is simply not supported by a proper understanding of the process of safe driving, let alone supported by "the science". That is exactly why I asked the questions in my initial letter.

Why won't you answer my questions Mr Begg and Mr Mace? What exactly are you trying to hide?

I have informed Mr Mace of my comments by email as follows:

Subject: Correspondence
Date: Thu, 23 Oct 2003 12:29:49 +0100
From: Paul Smith <psmith@safespeed.org.uk>
Organization: Safe Speed
To: richard.mace@dft.gsi.gov.uk

Dear Mr Mace

I have published your latest letter to http://www.safespeed.org.uk/begg.html where you will also find my comments. Should you have anything to add, I will be pleased to publish your further comments to the page.

Best Regards,
Paul Smith
Safe Speed

new Follow-up letters

This appeared in the North Wales Daily Post on 1st October:

You can't measure safe driving in miles per hour

We have a strict editorial policy regarding factual content. If any fact anywhere on this web site can be shown to be incorrect we promise to remove it or correct it as soon as possible.
Copyright © SafeSpeed 2003
Created 29/09/2003. Last update 23/10/2003
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