An independent report commissioned by the BBC has made serious criticisms of the government's speed camera policy.
The report by Professor Mervyn Stone of University College London, supports the official view that cameras do save
But he says the number of fatalities prevented in the UK might have been exaggerated because of weaknesses in statistics and their analysis. He says more lives might be saved if cameras were hidden, not painted yellow.
His report suggests that cameras should not be predominantly concentrated on proven accident blackspots because it means more people will be killed on dangerous stretches of road which don't qualify for a camera because not enough people have died there to qualify for a camera.
Prof Stone's judgement on road humps indicates that councils should stop tearing them out, because evidence suggests that they are saving lives. But he urged that the concerns of ambulance services should be taken seriously.
The report was commissioned by the Today Programme from Mr Stone, an Emeritus Professor of Statistics and Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. He took evidence over a two-month period from Robert Gifford supporting humps and cameras and Paul Smith, opposing. He cross-examined them both in a tribunal.
His report criticises the way Britain's statistics on cameras have been collected and analysed. He says when the camera programme was set up it should have been done as a scientific experiment so the benefits could be properly measured.
This failure means that the data from speed cameras has been sub-standard. That may have led independent analysts brought in to review government figures to take a somewhat optimistic view of the cameras' success.
Prof Stone says that better-conducted studies from Wales and Norway clearly show that cameras can save many lives. But the South Wales study also shows that visible cameras are only effective for a few hundred metres, while a New Zealand study suggests that hidden cameras are more effective.
He implies that the government should abandon the policy of painting cameras yellow and consider alternative ways of using cameras. The report implicitly questions the government's decision to agree to road lobby demands to place 85% of cameras on sites where at least four people have been killed or seriously hurt in the past three years.
That means some roads got a speed camera because of crashes not definitely associated with speed, while other highly
dangerous roads won't qualify for a camera until enough people get killed.
The government said it had no plans to stop painting cameras yellow. It said the recent 3-year review of camera statistics was conducted by independent academics and consultants who reject the implication that their figures are distorted.
The government was challenged by both the contributors at the tribunal to increase the number of traffic police on the roads to catch bad driving. That plea has been regularly made by motoring groups and safety groups. It was amplified later by Richard Brunstrom the head of the traffic committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said the Home Office had damaged road safety by removing traffic policing from the core duties of police forces. This has led to a downgrading of traffic policing.
Mr Brunstrom also agreed with Professor Stone and Mr Smith that official statistics on speed cameras had weaknesses.
This summary of the report and associated proceedings has been endorsed by Professor Stone.
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