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Mr Smith goes to Whitehall

Paul Smith is a man with a profound interest in driving and road safety. As a driver myself I, too, have a vested interest in these matters. Whenever I depart from point A I much prefer it to be overwhelmingly probable that I will reach point B with all my favourite limbs and organs in situ and functioning as nature intended.

The British government and its various agencies claim that they share this interest as well. Moreover, they assure us that the solution to the problem lies with forcing everyone to drive more slowly and punish those drivers who fail to comply. Hence the virus-like proliferation of the ‘GATSO’ or ‘Speed Camera’ which (just by complete coincidence I am sure) has also raised tens of millions of pounds for the public coffers from already over-taxed motorists who infringe blanket and arbitrary speed limits.

In response to the wave of discontent this has caused, the government, the police and the various lobbyists that support them, have doggedly stood their ground and explained that, yes, it is all very regrettable but the point of the GATSO’s is most assuredly not to raise revenue (no, perish the thought!) but merely to save lives. In other words, they are relying on the canard that freedom must be sacrificed in order to achieve safety.

Well, they are wrong and Paul Smith has made it his business to prove, publicly and beyond argument, that they are wrong. His website, Safe Speed, cuts a swathe through the cant and the piety:

We have never seen any credible figures that put road accidents caused by exceeding a speed limit at even 5% of road accidents. We object to speed cameras mainly because they fail to address the causes of at least 95% of road accidents. The Government claims of 1/3rd of accidents being caused by excessive speed are no more than lies according to the Government’s own figures.

I am shocked, SHOCKED I tell you!

Mr Smith has amassed a treasure trove of documentary, audio and video evidence that entirely discredits the myth that Tax Speed Cameras are anything whatsoever to do with either road safety or saving lives. In fact, so confident is Mr Smith in his own research that he throws down this gauntlet:

So here’s the challenge. We promise to publish here (in this box, on the first page of the web site) web links to any serious credible research that implies a strong link between excessive speeds and accidents on UK roads.

So if you are one of those people who thinks that the GATSO is a life-saver, you know exactly what to do.

In the meantime, more power to Paul Smith and his campaign for common sense and reason. When we eventually win this battle, the victory will be due in no small part to the dedication and integrity of people like him.

Cross-posted on White Rose.

13 comments to Mr Smith goes to Whitehall

  • toolkien

    I faced this issue (somewhat) last night. Happily cruising home on I-43 in South Eastern WI @ my usual 80-85 mph, a John Q Law enters from an on-ramp. Not wanting to get a ticket I slowed down and moved in behind. Of course traffic caught up with us and down the pike as one happy group we went. But of course the danger factor increases with a knot of cars versus a flow of cars going the speed they are comfortable with. Not only is there little proof that excessive speeds are themselves dangerous, the laws in place actually make things more dangerous in the overseen areas.

  • Paul Smith’s stuff is quite wrong and rather dishonest. The statistical “analysis” he presents is crap and not to be believed. The tragic thing is that the government’s figures aren’t much good either. See:
    About the anti-speed camera statistics;
    More about the anti-speed camera statistics;
    About the government’s statistics (third article by Pete Stevens, other two mine).

  • Matthew

    It’s slightly annoying to see described as a “tax” a prelevement that is only made on people who break the law?

    Then again, maybe I shouldn’t argue with people with guns?

  • Ben

    Let’s get over this canard that cameras are “revenue generators”. This is spin. It is the driver who is the “revenue generator”. If you speed you are breaking the law. If you break the law you ought to be punished (I thought conservatives believed in this sort of thing?). If you speed and are caught on camera, this is wholly and exclusively YOUR fault.

    If I get caught speeding – even at night, on a clear road etc, etc – I will hold my hands up and say fair cop.

    The other piece of BS is the nonsense about “over-taxed” motorists. Motoring cost have fallen by 1% in real terms over the last 20 years. Public transport costs have risen by upwards of 20% in the same period. If anything it is the poor old bus user who should be whingeing not motorists.

    Speed kills. Don’t use lies to obfuscate the truth.

  • It’s slightly annoying to see described as “law” a self-allocated license to steal by the UberBullies collectively known as “the State”.

    Then again, we can’t argue with these people, since they actually took our guns away.

  • toolkien

    Chris Lightfoot-

    Do you have statistics on how many third party deaths are caused by excessive speed? I’d be interested in knowing in how many cases a third party (i.e. not in the car speeding) has been killed. That is about the only statistic that I’d be interested in as far as the efficacy of speed cameras. ‘Racers’ have every right to spend their life in the manner they see fit and if going 75 versus 65 weighs correctly on their cost-benefit scales, so be it. They will be the only ones effected by their poor estimate of driving ability. Lightening their wallet is nonsense. The same goes for seat belts. All the statistics in the world can prove cameras or seat belt enforcement ‘saves lives’ but the question still remains whose responsibility is it to preserve whose life.

  • No. In fact the whole area is a mess; the recording of causes of accidents doesn’t seem to be at all reliable. There is good data on the numbers of different classes of road users who are killed or injured in accidents, but not enough to answer your question, as far as I can tell. It’s not absolutely clear to me that it’s a well-posed question, either; a pedestrian (or other driver) who is killed by a speeding driver might, or might not, have lived if the driver had not been speeding. There are studies which show a negative correlation between vehicle speed and road casualties, but I’ve not looked at them and obviously the design of such a study would be hard to get right. The government’s record (on the regression-to-the-mean issue) doesn’t leave me hopeful.

  • Alain Gadoury

    Here where I live, in the province of Quebec, Canada, there has been an happy coincidence between the amounts awarded as pay raises to the provincial police, who are in charge of ticketing drivers, with the amounts raised as fines.

  • Bernie Greene

    For Ben and his ilk: “Speed kills” is not very llikely. If it were true then we should ban the police and emergency services from driving “at speed” (whatever that might be). What would be the point? Their purpose is supposedly to save lives but their actions would be taking more lives. This is even understood as nonsense by the police and those who regulate the emergency services.

    The only thing that kills in a driving context is incompetent or malicious or suicidal drivers and possibly the same kind of mechanics.

  • Mark Ellott

    Here we go again, someone comes out with that nonsensical mantra: “speed kills.”

    Speed does not kill – people do. The safe speed for any given situation will depend on variables which include; type and condition of vehicle, attitude, aptitude and physical state of the driver, external hazards, weather conditions, road surface, visibility, time of day and so on…

    The “safe speed” will therefore have no bearing (unless accidentally) on the legal posted limit – it may be higher or lower depending on conditions. If you break the speed limit, you are breaking the law but are not necessarliy driving dangerously – let’s not confuse the two.

    Many of our posted limits are driven by the political agenda – not what is appropriate for the conditions – if they did, they would at least be variable. I am aware of several roads where restrictive limits have been posted recently for no obvious reason and yet the road is capable of sustaining speeds well in excess of the new restrictions.

    I regularly ride my motorcycle at speeds higher than the posted limit based upon my assessment of the risk (including that to my driving licence). Now, given that I am far from alone (and am frequently passed by folk travelling at even greater speed) one has to has to question the validity of a law that is subject to such a high level of disobedience and therefore the resources involved in policing it. Unless, of course, it is seen as a cash cow.

    Perhaps we should adopt the Sean Gabb approach (as he suggested for drink driving). This would mean that we remove all posted speed limits and leave the driver to make judgements on what is appropriate according to the things I mentioned above. However, if you drive at, say, 70mph at 15:30 past a school and kill a child, the penalty would be severe. You wold not be prosecuted for breaking the speed limit, nor for causing death by dangerous driving (both of which become irrelevant), but for manslaughter – after all, you knew what the risks are and chose not to drive accordingly. And, you were aware of the penalty.

    The problem with this approach is that it would require a level of maturity that doesn’t exist either in the houses of parliament nor in the wider general public.

    I remain, therefore, somewhat pessimistic.

  • neil

    I wonder how many people have stood very close to a car passing at 70mph. Would you like to try?
    It is quite alarming when you have to depend on someone else’s skills, especially given how poor people are at judging their own skill. There is plenty of literature on this related to driving behaviour. You are not as good as you think you are. Maybe it’s OK to say ‘oh, if I mess up then I should be punished, but will the punishment fix the child you hit at 70 mph?
    People who regularly speed are more likely to be involved in an accident. Pedestrians hit by cars are more like to be killed or seriously injured.
    Rules are suited to situations in which people are unable to act on the correct information. Roads need rules.

  • [Not Responding]

    I wish they were ‘tax’ cameras. The more of the tax burden that is raised from voluntary sources (in this case those who choose to drive above the speed limit) the better.

    Paul Smith’s site (and its many clones) is utter tosh. Have a look here here for a good discussion.

  • bogush

    A number of interesting points here:

    1) Variations of the “Don’t speed and you won’t get fined” soundbite (where do they cut and paste the variations from?).

    What about all those people fined for exceeding 50mph in a 70mph limit on the M4, was it?

    Or for breaking the 30mph limit when they were doing under 30/25/20/15/10 and even under 5mph? And those were just the ones who could remember what they were doing and could prove it (and weren’t scared off by the threats from the “Partnerships”).

    Or for breaking the illegal limits in Surrey was it (and lots of other places)? OK, so some of them were probably clearly signed, and the “speeders” probably didn’t know they were illegal.

    2) Drivers can’t drive/safely/judge the safe speed.

    So that’s why they keep hitting things everytime they hit the roads! I just can’t understand how I manage to get out of my drive, never mind back into my garage, without a succession of signs telling me when to do 5/10/15/20/25/30/25/20/15/10/5/0 mph!

    And how come I’m expected to know when 35/40/45/50/55/60/65/70 (and higher abroad) is the appropriate speed in 30 plus limits. But if some politician decides that the road needs to be a 30 I suddenly lose that ability when they change the sign?

    3) Your average driver keeps killing pedestrians at 70mph.

    How many pedestrians get killed at 70mph, or anywhere near that speed, or even over 30mph? How many “average” drivers kill anyone? In fact, how many even have accidents, and how often (infrequently)?

    How will any restrictions on the way average, or even typical, drivers drive have any effect on (improving) road safety?

    4) The faster you drive the more likely you are to kill someone.

    I’d rather be missed by someone who cruises safely at 40 in a 30, than be killed by someone who cruises at 29.9mph. And it would seem that you are more likely to be missed by the former, and hit by the latter.

    5) And to digress only slightly from points raised:

    If you reduced the efficiency of brakes and steering, would it make cars safer?

    So why is twenty plenty for cars, but trains need to go faster than 186mph, despite being unable to steer round hazards, and taking miles to stop, and having massively more destructive potential?

    Comparable numbers are killed on the railways as on the roads when you take mileage into account. Yes, very few passengers are killed on the railways. But, then again, very few passengers would be killed on the roads if we all drove around in 1,000 ton tanks. But there are several hundred people killed on the railways every year (and no, they aren’t all, or even a majority, suicides, and there are loads of suicides, and even more who effectively killed themselves, on the roads too, just that no one likes to mention it).