In defence of speed cameras

What a strange attitude we have to lawbreakers in cars. Attempts to enforce speed limits are denounced as interference with ancient English liberties. Motorists who drive too fast are excused on the grounds that they are "otherwise law-abiding", a description that may as easily be applied to wife-beaters or child molesters. Upright citizens boast of victories over breathalysers, speed cameras and parking tickets. The Sun launches a "stop the highway robbery" campaign against the cameras while a lunatic fringe attacks them with hammers and airguns, and threatens explosives. Traffic wardens - who it is proposed should have powers to book drivers for disobeying "no right turn" signs or loitering in yellow box junctions - are derided even by that paragon of metropolitan chatterers, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Ministers tremble at the tabloids' wrath and agree to consider proposals to remove cameras where they do not "protect" the public. This is an incoherent thought even by today's standards. If a legal limit on speed exists, it is worth enforcing.

Our love affair with the motor car blinds us to logic and common sense. We strain every sinew to protect children from paedophile murderers. Yet, the number of child pedestrians killed on the roads annually is ten times greater than the number killed by perverted strangers. It is also higher than in France or Germany. The yearly toll of death on the roads exceeds that exacted by Osama Bin Laden's madmen in New York in 2001, and is vastly higher than the number of Britons killed in all recent terrorist attacks. On any sane risk assessment, speed cameras on roads - which have been shown to cut deaths and serious injuries by 35 per cent - are more necessary than armed marshals on aeroplanes.

There is no argument whatever for treating errant motorists more leniently than any other class of offender, or for making less determined efforts to catch them. Even an ignored "no right turn" sign can cause death or injury to innocent people. An illegally parked car - which may itself lead to an accident - is simply theft of road space, an expensive and scarce commodity. Retailers stuff their stores with cameras to deter shoplifters who cause no physical harm to anybody. It is hardly possible to walk a hundred yards along a high street or a few feet across an airport lounge without surveillance. Why should it be different when we get into a motor vehicle? The police are said to hound lawbreaking motorists in preference to pursuing burglars. Why is this such a reprehensible order of priorities? Burglars cause loss and distress, but rarely kill or maim.

The argument that exceeding the speed limit is acceptable when the road is deserted or the schools are on holiday is preposterous. Children are more, not less, likely to be wandering around in the holidays, and pedestrians may unwittingly put themselves at risk in the belief that the limit is being observed. In any case, a pedestrian hit by a vehicle travelling at 40mph will almost certainly be killed, while one hit at 20mph will almost certainly survive. Nor is it so scandalous that revenue from motoring fines swells police and Treasury coffers. Raising money from the taxation of socially undesirable behaviour - whether it be smoking, emitting greenhouse gases or parking at road junctions - is a perfectly sound principle. Indeed, the Tory proposal that motorists who exceed the limit by small margins should pay higher fines rather than suffer licence endorsements has - unusually - some merit.

Cars seem to create a state of arrested adolescence in many users. Behind the wheel, middle-class, middle-aged men (and the worst drivers are nearly always men) become as reckless and heedless as teenagers. They resemble naughty schoolboys not only in their determination to flout authority, but in their resentment when they are "picked on". Yet a car is potentially a lethal weapon. The use of it is a privilege, not a right; the minority who forget that deserve to be hounded as mercilessly as any housebreaker or teenage vandal.

They get away with murder

What does the royal coroner, Michael Burgess, hope to achieve by asking the Metropolitan Police to investigate allegations that the Princess of Wales was the victim of a plot? A conspiracy instigated by Prince Charles and embracing MI5, MI6, British ministers, the Ritz hotel, a driver of a Fiat Uno and French police officers, doctors, pathologists and magistrates is hardly likely to stop at the Met. Look at how Lyndon Johnson got away with his successful plot to murder President Kennedy and how willingly hundreds of witnesses to the Warren Commission covered up for him. Or look at how aliens have persuaded world leaders to keep quiet about human abductions - though one can never be sure that John Prescott didn't once blurt it out without anybody understanding him. Mr Burgess should bow to the inevitable and find Prince Charles and all his associates guilty without further ado. Everybody else has.

Next Article