Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Speed cameras and middle class hypocrisy
Imagine the Daily Mail headline: "Burglars in uproar over new government tax on the underclass!" In reality of course there is a greater chance of a Daily Express editorial sounding off about the benefits (no, not those benefits) of asylum seekers and French cuisine than the Mail doing anything other than sticking to the script and trying to appear "tough" on crime. Or so you mistakenly thought, for not all crimes are equal, or, as those who deem speed cameras "Orwellian" might say: four wheels good, one leg bad.
Not only have the right-wing press, Top Gear, and the usual groups with the word "alliance" in their names, unleashed their righteous brand of invective upon speed cameras during the past decade, but now the coalition government have joined in the hostilities, with the road safety minister, Mike Penning, declaring: "In the coalition agreement the government made clear it would end central funding for fixed speed cameras...This is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist."
Many of you will probably have realised that we have entered the age of the deserving and undeserving poor, but what some of you were perhaps unprepared for was the age of the deserving and undeserving crime: a time when the penalty levied for a crime committed by the middle classes at least as much as other social groups becomes a "war" and a "persecution" rather than a justified punishment for something that accounts for around *1,200 deaths as well 20,000 serious injuries every year - the last time I checked, considerably more than caused by either Robert Thompson or "Khat".
As Julie Spence, outgoing head of Cambridgeshire police has said: “Speeding is middle-class anti-social behaviour...People think we should be able to get away with it. They wouldn’t tolerate lawbreaking by somebody else but they do it themselves without thinking...It all seems OK until something tragic happens, like their child dies because of a road traffic accident.”
The argument that speed cameras prevent accidents is a fairly convincing one: considering speed is the cause of around one third of all traffic accidents, and considering a person is less likely to speed at the site of a camera, logic would dictate that fewer accidents would occur the more speed cameras there are. The statistics appear to back this up: figures from the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership show that at the 212 fixed camera sites across the wider Thames Valley region - which also includes Buckinghamshire and Berkshire - there was a 38% drop in vehicle collisions when you compare the three years before each camera was put in place with the most recent three years. The argument trotted out by those opposed to cameras is that they cause erratic driving, which occurs when drivers slam on the brakes upon seeing a camera, potentially losing control of their vehicle in the process. What goes unmentioned of course is that cameras are highly visible and painted yellow precisely because of the lobbying of drivers organisations who wish to help their members avoid getting caught speeding. The problem then does not appear to be the existence of the cameras but their visibility.
Considering I have as yet to come across published Taxpayer's Alliance or Daily Mail figures for the "revenue generated" by fines levied upon convicted burglars or cannabis smokers - two far more victimless crimes if we wish to talk about actual fatalities, the most important indicator of all one would think, - I can only assume that the hostility to speed cameras is an attempt to eat one's cake as well as to have it: to call for "toughness" over the crimes that others commit while simultaneously risking lives and carping on about a "war on the motorist".
What a shame the coalition government has added its name to this populist rabble.
*Source JMW Solicitors