Yeah, I said it. People are getting upset and frustrated after a huge increase in speeding fines have been issued following a change in the rules around the margin of error for speed cameras. And quite frankly, they are getting annoying.
So last month, the Government quietly re-wrote the rules in regards to what margin of error speed cameras give before operating and the police issuing speeding tickets. In England, single static cameras used to operate with a 10%+2mph margin of error, meaning that enforcement would not issue unless a vehicle was measured to be passing at above 35mph in a 30mph zone, 46mph in a 40mph zone etc. This was to allow a margin of error in the measuring equipment, and that of the speedometer in the vehicle. The new rule is 10%+1mph meaning that those who travel between 34 and 35mph in 30 zones are now being prosecuted when they were not previously. This is not the case for Average Speed Checks, which calculate average speed between a much larger distance, something which is much more accurate and have no margin for error.
It is also worth noting that with the advancements in technology, newer equipment being used by law enforcement offers much more precise readings than its predecessors. This has allowed for a reduction in the tolerance rate to be justified, although I personally believe it should go much further.
So why is this change important? The purchasing and usage of speed camera equipment is expensive. To justify the use of equipment, it must effectively pay for itself within a certain timeframe. Therefore law enforcement will only consider using and maintaining equipment if it generates enough revenue to maintain and use it. This is why operational fixed cameras are becoming rarer, because they are easily seen and known about, people slow down when they approach them in order to avoid a fine, so they no longer generate the revenue they first did. Mobile units are much more unpredictable and are more likely to catch people out unaware.
Anecdotally, speedometers also have to fall within certain perameters on MOT tests, and must read lower than the actual speed of the vehicle, but within a certain percentage tolerance. The readings must remain in tolerance for the full lifespan of the tyres fitted: The small circumference change in tyres as the tread wears away makes a small but significant difference to distance travelled per wheel revolution, and therefore vehicle speed that is not registered by speedometers.
A large number of drivers attempt to use the margin of error tolerance to justify travelling that little bit faster. Assuming you believe your speedometer is approximately 10% under true value, your speedometer reading will be at 33mph for travelling at a percieved 30mph. You then decide to push up to the the 10%+2 tolerance and travel at a speed where the speedometer reads 38 or 39mph. If your speedometer is much more accurate than that 10% you are likely to be travelling between 36 and 39mph for a perceived speed of 35.
Public roads have never been more dangerous. Most roads have not changed in size yet are having to handle mugh greater volumes of traffic. Vehicles have also gotten larger; the average family car has a greater number of safety features including larger crumple zones to protect occupants in the event of an accident. Up until the pandemic, small hatchbacks were decreasing in popularity and larger SUVs were all the rage, and the trend hasn’t completely gone away. The increased weight of vehicles also has a bearing on speed and stopping ability; requiring more force to move and stop at any given speed and distance. Also factor in the increased volume of commercial and public transport vehicles on our roads, space is at a greater premium than ever.
This makes affective gaps smaller, meaning tighter angles to manouvre around obstacles and hazards. Margin for error is therefore reduced, thus increasing the risk of collisions, kerb strikes, mirror tappings etc. It is much easier to manouvre at lower speeds.
Relying on speed perception is also not a good method of judgement and control. For instance, a Caterham 7 car, which is low to the ground, very small and light weight, will feel much faster from the cockpit when travelling at the exact same speed as a Ford Transit van, which will feel comparibly slower. The size and driving position of a given vehicle always affects how fast or slow a perceived speed is in comparison to a vehicle’s true speed. The fact that vehicles are much larger gives people the feeling of travelling slower than 30mph when in fact they are travelling at or slightly above 30 adds to the problem.
Many local and regional authorities have been regularly reviewing speed limits where they are proving a particular concern; either accident blackspots, congestion areas (town centres, bottleneck junctions) and narrow country lanes, in an attempt to increase safety and environmental impact as people continue to flout them.
When learning to drive I was always taught that the speed limit was the maximum allowed and in any situation that has the potential to be hazardous, such as narrowings, partial obstructions, other vulnerable road users and even weather conditions to reduce speed as low as necessary. If you are passing parked cars closely, slow to 10-15mph. Taking some sharp bends that are blind, slow right down.
There are so many accidents attributed to speeding where people are injured or killed, which are often completely avoidable. The world around you is unpredictable and if you can’t avoid a sudden and unexpected hazard in time, something bad can happen. I take my son to school in the morning and I am genuinely concerned for the kids’ safety from what I see. Impatient drivers hammering it past cars, not looking (or distracted on their phones), and not giving way at designated crossings. And I genuinely feel that someone with my son’s temperament (Autistic, non-communicative, no danger concept and major curiosity) if given just a split second opportunity to run into the road he would take it, and out of nowhere. If that moment is unsighted between parked cars what chance do speeding drivers have of stopping?
It’s time all road users learn to expect the unexpected and actually pay attention to their speedometers instead of trying to beat them. If you speed and get caught, boo hoo. You broke the law. You made your bed, lie in it.