Letters to the Editor
The following are letters I have had published in the press on road safety related subjects:
Stockport Express 5 November 2003
(in response to the publishing of proposals from the South East Manchester Multi-Modal Study [SEMMMS] for the A6(M) Stockport Eastern Bypass, A523 Poynton Bypass and A555 Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road [MAELR] schemes to be constructed in a seriously watered-down form)
SEMMMS plans are wet & weedy (not my heading)
Reading the consultation paper about the SEMMMS road schemes, it struck me what a missed opportunity it represented. Andrew Stunell MP says that the new plans are "slimmer and smarter" than the originals, but the reality is that they are weedier and dumber.
Whether part of the road was once intended to have a motorway designation is irrelevant, but the key aspect of the original plans was that they included grade-separated junctions, where the main road is carried on a flyover or underpass and connected to the road it intersects by slip roads. This type of design is universally recognised as preferable for high-capacity roads, as it not only aids traffic flow, but improves safety, by eliminating conflicting traffic movements, and reduces pollution, by cutting the need to slow to a halt, wait in a queue, then accelerate again.
On what will obviously be an extremely well-used road, to abandon grade-separation in favour of level junctions, either signal-controlled or roundabouts, is short-sighted and irresponsible.
We can see this with the A34 Handforth/Wilmslow bypass, where there are no less than eight roundabouts between Cheadle Royal and Alderley Edge, and safety problems have led to constant tinkering with road markings and the imposition of a lower speed limit along part of its length only a couple of years after it opened.
Of course the SEMMMS scheme is desperately needed, and even a sub-standard design will still bring long-overdue relief to residents in communities along the route such as Poynton, Hazel Grove and Bredbury. But surely if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing properly. If these roads are built as currently planned, it can be confidently predicted that they will be acknowledged as inadequate within months of opening.
Stockport Express 20 November 2002
(in response to a report stating that Stockport's senior traffic police officer wished to see the return of concealed grey speed cameras)
Conspicuous speed cameras effective (not my heading)
Inspector John Williams is incorrect in stating that when speed cameras were painted grey, drivers didn't know where they were and were therefore encouraged to moderate their speed everywhere. Even if they were hidden behind signs and bushes, their locations were still obvious to regular users of a road, who were then able, if they chose, to slow down only in the vicinity of the cameras. The grey cameras also led to dangerous last-minute braking when drivers who were unfamiliar with the road suddenly spotted them.
Experience in many locations has shown that highly visible cameras are far more effective than inconspicuous ones both in reducing speeds and cutting the number of accidents. In one particular case in Plymouth, painting cameras in bright colours led to a 43% fall in injury accidents and an 80% drop in recorded offences, far higher than any improvements achieved with grey cameras.
Before deciding on the locations of the new cameras, presumably Stockport MBC carried out a detailed study of accident patterns and ensured that the cameras were sited where there had been clusters of speed-related accidents. Given this, surely it is far better for drivers to slow down in these locations rather than to travel too fast and get three points on their licence.
Last year, when the highly visible cameras were officially launched, Norfolk's chief constable Ken Williams, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' traffic committee, went on record as saying that hidden cameras alienated drivers and added, "Police officers get no joy out of issuing fixed penalty tickets, but they get a lot of satisfaction out of changing behaviour and attitudes to speed."
If this sensible message from one of the country's most senior police officers is rejected, it raises the question whether the real objective is not to improve safety but to raise revenue and maximise the number of convictions.
The Guardian 15 August 2001
(in response to an editorial urging the installation of many more speed cameras)
Why speed cameras won't cut casualties
You say (Leader, August 14) that extending the use of speed cameras is "simple and doesn't cost much money either". Unfortunately, neither does it work in reducing road casualties.
Of the eight police areas chosen for the pilot studies of intensive camera enforcement, seven had shown an atypical increase in road fatalities in 1999. The dramatic improvements claimed merely represent a return to the previous trend line.
Since 1991 we have seen the widespread installation of speed cameras and also the reduction of existing speed limits on thousands of miles of road. Yet the previously impressive rate of reduction in road casualties has fallen off and in the past few years effectively flattened out. This suggests we have seriously lost our way on road safety policy.
Research show that inappropriate speed in excess of the posted limit is the cause of only a very small proportion of road casualties - one Transport Research Laboratory report suggests it is about 5%. Blanketing every road with cameras will do nothing to affect the remaining 95%.
Surely to achieve further reductions in road casualties we need a coherent, coordinated policy that addresses all the causes of accidents rather than concentrating on one relatively minor factor? We also need renewed emphasis on road user training, as well as investment in roads, particularly to take heavy through-traffic out of urban areas.