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4th August 2004
Tory transport policy

Interesting (and perhaps more importantly, potentially vote-winning) new policy from the conservatives - less speed cameras and some higher speed limits (well perhaps there's a bit more to it than that, but close enough). Not exactly the obvious choice you might think, but it'll no doubt be popular with the 'average' driver, not that the tories would ever choose a policy because of popularity rather than practicality I'm sure (please insert your own level of sarcasm into the last 17 words).
In terms of speed cameras (the most heavily reported part of the policy), BBC news reported that the conservatives would carry out an 'audit' of all speed cameras, to find out which ones were making roads safer, and which ones were simply for raising money. Now I'm sure there are many flaws in this plan, but here are just two of them.
Firstly, this could well cost an awful lot of money, as a fairly detailed study would have to be carried out on every single speed camera! Is it really that important, I mean the speed limit is the speed limit - if you don't want to get caught speeding, don't go (much) over the limit. Fair enough if you want to do some studies to find out accident blackspots where there aren't any speed cameras at present but could be in the future, but spending money just to find out where to get rid of the cameras seems unneccessary.
The second thing is that I find it hard to believe that the statistics for a single speed camera will give you any useful information. We all know that you can find statistics to 'prove' a remarkable array of seemingly contrasting views, so no doubt the tories will quote some figures at us to tell us why we don't want speed cameras in certain places, but surely in the majority of cases there won't be a big enough sample, i.e. the numbers of accidents at a single speed camera (even over a longish period like a year) simply won't be enough to draw any useful information from. There is of course also the issue of whether it is worth increasing slightly the number of minor accidents, in order to significantly reduce the number of serious/fatal accidents (as many traffic calming measures may well do). I'm not sure where the tories fall on that one (I imagine they're hoping no-one will ask).
But the new policy isn't all bad - as often seems to be the case with tory policies, there is a glimmer of sense sneaking through somewhere, but because it isn't so important with the voters, it gets relegated to a brief mention, and the populist part of the policy gets all the coverage. They want to fiddle with the speed limits, and in theory this is a great idea - they talk about increasing some motorway sections to 80mph and reducing more areas from 30mph to 20mph near schools. The reason I say only a glimmer of sense is that really they should be realising the link between speed cameras and changing speed limits - there is no doubt that at the moment some speed limits are hard to understand, when compared with limits on other roads, so in fact when people complain about putting a speed camera up in an area where it is 'safe' to drive faster than the speed limit, the solution is (provided that it is indeed sufficiently safe) to put up the speed limit rather than remove the camera. And if the current speed limit is a fair one, then keep the speed camera up even if it is just a money-earner and hasn't been explicitly proven to make the road safer. Perhaps the best transport policy would be the one which offers a complete rethink of all speed limits, but again, the money has to come from somewhere to do the research.

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