Monday, April 12, 2010

Fake speed camera slows motorists down.

I don't know if you caught this story recently - fake speed camera slows motorists down. Essentially, retired police officer Bill Angus built a bird box that looks like a generic yellow speed camera, and mounted it on a post in his front garden that looks like a generic speed camera post.
Speed cameras are the scourge of modern motoring, especially in England where they serve no purpose other than to take money off unsuspecting road users. There are plenty of studies that prove they don't work (I even have an entire write-up on this topic on my page speeding facts vs. fiction). For this guy to make his bird box deliberately look like a speed camera is nothing short of a despicable act of hatred towards road users. I'm sure he's very proud of the fact that his deception is slowing motorists down on his street, but he's apparently not very smart. Now he's got national and internet attention, any driver worth his salt will know about this fake box, and simply ignore it. Worse - being in England - the chances of his 'speed camera' being hooped (ringed with an old tyre full of petrol and being set on fire) have gone up tremendously. Now I'm not in PETA or the WWF or any nature-loving organisation for that matter, but even I would frown on destroying the nesting box for a family of birds. The problem is that Mr. Angus is inviting just that by his actions. Mr Angus needs to get some facts about the lack of relationship between speeding and accidents before taking the law into his own hands. He's a retired police officer - he should know better.


Stuart Cuthbertson said...

Hi Chris,

First let me say that a) I have read your page on speeding b) I find your site very useful c) you are fully entitled to your own opinion.

Additionally I would be in favour of (UK) speed limits being increased in some circumstances e.g. open motorways, given the improvements in car braking/control technology since 70mph was fixed. Motorways are however a VERY different driving environment to built up areas, which your analysis of TRL595 doesn't seem to cover at all. In the UK at least this is where the majority of speed cameras are, excepting the newer average speed zones on motorways which are an entirely different kettle of fish. (I'd be interested to hear your opinion on those.)

However, there is something that I feel gets missed all to much. The government is the government, and the law is the law. If drivers decide to break the law by speeding, that is their choice and the criminal and judiciary systems are entitled to use whatever lawful means they wish (=speed cameras) to catch the drivers and punish them however they see fit (=fines). This is what democracy means. Neither the cameras or those that maintain/use them are evil or performing "despicable acts of hatred towards road users". If Joe Petrolhead Bloggs dislikes them that much and can't avoid speeding, he's free to stop using motorised vehicles - that is, after all, a privilege not a human right.

Lastly, I wouldn't lean too heavily on your analysis of reports about speeding and its effects. There are plenty of methodological and statistical criticisms that could be levelled at such reports if so desired... not least, a lot of the factors you consider as "not speeding" are in fact at least partially a direct causal result of speeding (e.g. "looked but didn't see" - often because the other party approached fast enough that they weren't there when the first party looked.)

Chris said...

The law is the law, yes. But speed cameras exist for one reason and one reason only - to make money. If the government were really interested in road safety, country roads would be redesigned with better signage and markings. City streets would be narrowed and have larger pavements. EVERYONE using a cellphone whilst driving would be stopped and fined. etc. ad nauseum. The simple fact of the matter is that speed cameras are a quick, easy and foolproof way to generate revenue.
As for the SPECS cameras on motorway roadworks, you have no idea how depressing it was when I was in the UK recently being forced to trudge through miles of deserted roadworks on the M1 and M25 at 50mph. It was like something out of 1984. The worst part about it was the number of gantries going up outside the roadworks meaning they're going to use these things to police the speed limit when the roadworks are gone.
You're right that driving is a privilege, not a right, but in the UK you pay so much for the privilege that the addition of revenue-sucking speed cameras that have no objectivity is an insult. At least if you're stopped by a policeman with a radar gun you can discuss the situation and he can determine whether or not 40mph on a deserted city street at 3am was dangerous or not. An automated speed camera is incapable of making that judgment.
Of course I'm not saying you should speed in built-up areas, but it makes the point.

Paul said...

What I find pathetic in this story is the comments from Angus:
If people want to think it is a camera, that is a matter for themselves.'
Mr Angus said the domes on either side of his bird box were fake camera lenses to deter thieves, and the lamp on the front, which looks like a camera flash, was part of an old torch he used to plug a hole he 'accidentally' made.

Who's he trying to fool? He sounds like an idiot to be honest.

Having said that, speeders doing 60+ in a 30 area is dangerous and something does need to be done.

Stuart said...

Thanks for replying, Chris.

I take your point that there are other ways to improve road safety (and am especially in agreement on the cellphone/satnav/other distracting gadgets) - however you're living in a very different world if you think it would be remotely beneficial to narrow city streets (massively increasing congestion) or possible to redesign 1000s of miles of country roads.

This latter suggestion surely goes against your maxim of not dumbing down driving - I'd certainly argue that the onus is on drivers to pay enough attention and read the road ahead, no matter how windy. As somebody that's driven in many parts of the UK I very rarely see roads I think are poorly signed/marked. It's all about the degree of thought the driver puts into reading them.

A policeman that stops you for speeding won't be in a mind to discuss it, either. You miss the underlying point: there is a sentence somewhere in a tome of English Law effectively saying "it is breaking the law to travel above speed X in a Xmph Speed Zone". That makes you a criminal if you do it, and the policeman has a duty to treat you as such. Black and white - no grey area at all.

Now, I'm not saying I wouldn't be in favour (I would, very) of a revision of road traffic law that makes speed limits dependent on conditions e.g. weather, visibility, and potentially day/night. But that isn't currently in English Law so a copper will have no more truck with your excuse than the speed camera will.

If the law did change in this way, I would then begin to agree that speed cameras would only serve to raise revenue. As the law is now, they serve a simple, genuine purpose in law, releasing real policemen to perform policing tasks and make decisions that can't be boiled down to a simple logical IF/THEN statement with a laser and a camera attached.

Stuart said...

As for SPECS cameras - they are already used on motorways without roadworks, often in conjunction with real-time variable speed limits, that very effectively alleviate phantom jams as well as increasing safety around breakdowns/crashes.

I would be in favour of these replacing GATSO cameras on all multilane roads - they promote smooth driving, cannot be accused of causing accidents due to sudden braking, allow drivers enough leeway to overtake safely, and so on.

That said, I personally think automated GPS-based vehicle tracking would be the nirvana of road safety, but that's probably another debate!

It is a pain when reductions are enforced on deserted roadworks - but I've seen roadworks where the associated paraphenalia and road conditions definitely merit lower speeds whether or not workers are present. It is perhaps easier and cheaper for Those In Charge to decide "reduced limit stays in place 24/7" than pay somebody to assess each site.

It's interesting that you get depressed by having to travel at 50mph not 70mph. Are you really such a motor enthusiast if you dislike spending the extra half-hour in your car that much? I find such zones quite relaxing - variations in speed stop me getting as tired when driving long-distance.

Chris said...

Hi Stuart.
It was depressing because for most of the miles I spent in those camera zones, people weren't even doing 50 - most were doing closer to 40. So after miles of relatively free-flowing traffic doing 75-80mph, we then encounter a camera-induced traffic jam of 40mph crawl for 20 miles.
It looked like something out of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'. Obey. Obey. Obey.
Don't you find it worrying that the government has made the penalties for minor driving infractions so draconian that most drivers will concentrate more now on trying to spot cameras and traps than they will on the actual act of driving?
The other problem with after-the-event fines is that it does absolutely nothing to make a particular section of road any safer. If I'm to be made aware of a "dangerous" road, then surely road signs or some other indication would be better than a hidden camera that takes a photo and issues a fine two weeks after I drove on the road?

Stuart C said...

Hmm, yes, I can see why that's annoying then. I do have many reservations about general quality of driving in this country - and that experience seems to me to be annoying because of the drivers' behaviour rather than the limit/cameras themselves.

Also a very fair point about warning signs - though I do see a lot of these around. Many of the drivers that cameras catch wouldn't/don't take notice of such signs anyway, though - see above.

I do agree that the speed camera "arms-race" is ridiculous - although again I'm inclined to blame the drivers more. If drivers would just learn to stick to the limits and drive safely, rather than trying to play dodge-the-camera, there's be much more incentive for the government to up the limits in suitable places.

I'm all in favour of any technology that would allow worse offences than speeding to be spotted reliably.