PH Blog


Tuesday 15th May 2012


Harris ponders how to get along with the ever-present SPECS camera and - almost - finds peace

The SPECS camera isn't as invasive as its Gatso or Truvelo relatives for two obvious reasons. Its presence, especially on motorways is always clearly marked, and it records time over a specific distance and therefore doesn't pounce with a strobe of instantaneous flash light and send a bolt of fear down your spine. BOOF! I just got done.

SPECS' beady eye is everywhere these days
SPECS' beady eye is everywhere these days
What currently fascinates with SPECS cameras isn't the number of people who still pile past us at 80mph in a 50mph zone. I discussed them in a previous life, and everyone agreed they have either nicked the car or will get pinched. No, my current obsession involves maximising efficiency through any given SPECS zone. Trouble is, I'm not sure how to get the best from them. I need a SPECS lesson.

For starters, how early do those beady, yellow frowns begin to track your speed? I want to persuade myself that I can get down to 50mph right underneath them, but something about their positioning always spooks me into thinking they've been monitoring me from 400m away. It's un-nerving, so I probably slow too early.

Being in 'the zone' has much in common with being a young Skywalker on final approach to the guts of the Death Star "Red Leader this is Gold Leader" and all that. Close-formation driving, monitoring all vehicle information "Your speeds too high, you're coming in too fast!" subtle alterations to avoid meandering HGVs and of course the most difficult skill - matching your speed against other drivers.

All bets off after dark?
All bets off after dark?
What's the ideal speed? Using the old text book, allowing for speedometer error and some wriggle-room from the authorities, you'd have to say an indicated 54mph is about right. Add another 1mph and you begin to creep away from your tormentor in the A4 TDi Sportline (with privacy glass), but does that 1mph send you into the death zone - "use The Force Luke!" - or are you well within the limit? For that matter, try adding 1mph accurately in a GT2 RS. It isn't easy. If your mons pubis shifts 4mm it can trigger a boost surge that could send you straight to an indicated 65mph - at which point I assume you have to cruise at 20mph for the remainder of 'the zone'. What if you're driving an Italian car? At an indicated 50mph your actual speed could be anything from 35mph to 107mph.

There are so many variables. Are all SPECS zones set to the same tolerances? Do multiple lane changes vex their evil little brains? At night, when you see a camera that doesn't emit that eerie red glow from its lens, does that mean it isn't operational? And if you knew that to be the case, would you have the confidence to use the information in the interests of added velocity?

What I do know is that the simplest solution is to simply set cruise control, should you have it, at 50mph and let the world slide by.

This isn't about speed for speed's sake, it isn't necessarily concerned with arriving at a destination sooner; it's an inquisitive joust at the electronic powers that attempt to contain our behaviours. I don't dislike SPECS cameras, they seem to keep things moving through motorway roadworks.

I just want to know where the line is. As much out of curiosity as anything else.


Photos: The Highways Agency

Author: Chris Harris