SPEED kills and speed cameras save lives.
Those are the inescapable conclusions to be drawn from the latest figures released by Scotland's Chief Statistician yesterday. In plain English that means that there are people alive today who would have been dead if what are known correctly as "safety cameras" had never been introduced. And there are men, women and children who are fit and well who would have been injured or permanently disabled without these cameras, which continue to attract criticism from a vocal minority.
Yesterday's figures show that the number killed and seriously injured in the past three years on stretches of Scotland's roads where safety cameras have been installed is less than a third of the total for the three-year period in those areas before the cameras were put in place: 108, compared with 337 casualties in accident black spots.
Critics of the cameras dismiss such statistics by arguing that they merely displace accidents to other stretches of road. They say they cause motorists to drive erratically and brake suddenly when cameras come into view.
Gender stereotypes about boy racers appear to apply here because, while 82% of respondents to the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) last year agreed that people should see the use of the cameras as a good thing, they are far more popular with women than men. In fact, one-quarter of males disagree with their use, including 14% who disagree strongly. Yet accident statistics show that safety cameras do not merely move car crashes from one place to another. In fact, despite a multiplication in the number of vehicles on the roads, last year's figures show the lowest number of casualties on Scottish roads since records began.
Some myths die hard. Despite high levels of public support for safety cameras, many people (59% in the SCJS) continue to view them a device for raising revenue. This is a hangover from the period before 2007 when camera partnerships, operated by police forces and local authorities, were permitted to keep a proportion of what they raised in fines. These days all fines go to the Treasury, which has a budget for all aspects of road safety. Last year Scotland actually spent more on road safety (£4.6m) than was raised through fixed penalties (£3.7m). As every fatal accident is said to cost the public purse £1.8m, let alone the grief of those left behind, safety cameras deserve public support.
The figures also suggest that in general motorists are learning to watch their speed in camera zones. The exception to this encouraging trend concerns the small numbers of fixed cameras in 40, 50 and 60mph zones. As these are mainly on rural roads, which continue to claim a disproportionate number of serious accidents, that is where attention now must focus. This is a complex issue, in which the need to adjust one's speed for the terrain and weather conditions may be more important than merely staying within a speed limit.
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