Friday 12th October 2012


An unhappy anniversary as we (don't) celebrate two decades of camera-based speed limit enforcement

Tomorrow (October 13, appropriately enough...) marks a birthday most here will probably want to forget. According to Transport for London it was 20 years to the day that Britain's first speed camera was activated, a Gatso device on Twickenham Bridge on the A316 in south west London.

Has it really been two decades?
Has it really been two decades?
The westbound stretch was called an "accident blackspot" by then Minister for Transport in London, Steven Norris, who was quoted in the Richmond and Twickenham Times the following week.

Judging from data from the camera trial, drivers certainly hoofed it round this 40mph-limited right-hand bend. The police officer leading the camera program, Roger Reynolds, told the paper the trial camera snapped 22,939 drivers travelling over 65mph in just 22 days.

And when it was switched on, it caught 20 cars running over 70mph in the first week. Hilariously the drivers faced not just a fine (income dependent) but 'possible disqualification', according to the paper. You could be caught doing anything up to double the urban speed limit and still just receive the £32 fixed penalty notice.

From simple beginnings cameras have grown
From simple beginnings cameras have grown
PistonHeads tracked down Reynolds, now retired from the police force, to ask him about that comparative early leniency. "Speeding's a pyramid," he told us. "Everybody speeds, but in a 30 most are doing 30-35mph, fewer are doing 40-45mph and at the top people are doing 60mph. So we said let's start at the top."

He said that Twickenham camera was only set to flash at 60mph. "The whole point was remind people about speed, not to catch them." To that end he said only one in eight of the early cameras actually had the full £10,000 worth of kit inside them. The rest just had a rudimentary version of the Doppler radar - just enough to set off a flash but costing only £1,000.

Even today, the AA reckons only about 500-600 cameras can actually log your speed.

Cameras now a factor of everyday driving
Cameras now a factor of everyday driving
Reynolds went on to oversee London's camera network, but after he left the police in 1999 he became angry at the escalation of fines and the ever lower reduction in trigger speed. Especially when the 'netting off' system in 2000 let local authorities keep a percentage of the income.

"When you put a camera in, the number of speeders always reduces. Suddenly there's no money coming in, so they drop the trigger speed from 38mph to 35mph to pay the bills," he told us. "What good it does it do? It just alienates you from the public."

So yes, birthday wishes to the Gatso, but very few GOOD wishes.


Author: NickGibbs