Motoring Journalist John Swift gives his opinion on fixed penalty notices:

John Swift Portrait PhotoWallets on wheels?

It’s hard to think of drivers being regarded in any other way when we learn that each day a scarcely believable 33,000 penalty notices are issued by police and local authorities every day; that’s about 12 million a year or one every 2.5 seconds.

Is this law enforcement or an industry?  A way of chiselling more cash from us on top of the £40 billion we already pay in other motoring taxes?

OK, you can say that the law is the law and we can’t complain if we get a ticket for doing something wrong but what I dislike is that the vast majority of it is automated and these penalties are issued without any human judgement.

Speeding fine cameras

Trigger a speed camera at 36 in a 30 zone and some will say, “tough, that’s speeding.” But what about if you put your foot down momentarily to, say, get past a cyclist while there was a gap in the oncoming traffic; yes, it was speeding but wouldn’t it also be safer?

Using machines instead of a person to decide on a penalty is wrong in many cases because often they are not black and white situations, but a camera has no judgement.

Some of the figures contained in a recent report, ‘Automated Road Traffic Enforcement: Regulation, Governance and Use’ commissioned by the RAC Foundation, are staggering.

In 2015 there were eight million parking penalties issued by councils, two and a half million tickets for going into a bus lane or incorrectly using a box junction, half a million for taxing your car late and a million for speeding or a red light infringement.

Oh, and these figures do not include the 1.2 million or so of us who every year attend a speed awareness course instead of getting three points and a fine.

But can anyone honestly say that all these incidents merit a financial penalty because I personally do not believe it.

Local authorities and police forces may say with justification that cameras are a better use of their resources at a time of falling budgets and staff numbers and it’s true, theirs is a strong financial case and we all appreciate having police resource out on our streets keeping us safe.

Money speaks louder than most things and between 2010 and 2014 the number of traffic police officers was cut by 24 per cent while the cost of a speed camera fell. When they first began being used in significant numbers it cost £1.5 million for a set of average speed cameras to cover one mile; today that figure is £100,000 so you can see the temptation for those responsible for costs at police HQs.

As an aside, you may have recently read that even that cost is too much for many forces and that half the cameras on many roads are turned off. But which half? Erring on the side of caution is the best policy even if, as I have said many times, driving within the limit is not necessarily the same as driving safely.

Can a camera spot the driver on their mobile, fiddling with their infotainment systems the size of a TV screen, the one over the alcohol limit or the one simply incompetent?  They may be driving slower than the speed limit but they are not safe.

Back to the main theme though, there seems to be some backlash against the degree of automation and I for one am with those who say it is too simplistic.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

To maintain its legitimacy, automatic enforcement must be viewed by the public as proportionate. While wrongdoing should be punished and not excused, a decline in frontline policing risks an imbalanced approach to enforcement. Millions of motorists are being caught by camera, often for arguably minor misdemeanours, whilst more serious and harmful behaviour goes undetected.

I couldn’t say it any better.


Do you agree with John or do you think the automation helps make our road safer?  Let us know in the comments below.