ProLaser HOTA speed gun

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The DfT’s decision that the Wandsworth Borough Council speed camera trial was not legally sound draws a line in the sand for enforcement and compliance on the UK’s public roads. 

The Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) decision to declare Wandsworth Borough Council’s (WBC’s) speed camera trial illegal makes an important point about the roles and responsibilities of road enforcement here in the UK. It means that, for the foreseeable, fines and endorsements for unsafe driving on public roads will remain the responsibility of properly qualified agencies.

It also means that local authorities need to consider other means by which to maintain and improve road safety.

Launched in October 2022, the scheme was not supported by the Metropolitan Police (‘the Met’), London Mayor or Transport for London (TfL). It attracted criticism from road safety professionals and the media for several reasons.

Most significantly, WBC had contracted with a private-sector supplier to impose a 20mph speed limit along two roads. Despite not gaining support from the two organisations named, a WBC spokesperson stated that the aims were to support the Met and TfL with their speed enforcement work and to contribute to wider London efforts towards Vision Zero.

In reality, it meant that, for the first time in the UK, a borough council and its private-sector partner would be issuing fines for excessive speed on public roads.

WBC’s aim had been to issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) of up to £130, the cost of which would be reduced to £65 if the recipient paid within 14 days. This led to accusations of revenue-generation, rather than there being any safety — or environmental — imperatives.

However, before any PCNs were actually issued the DfT told the DVLA that sharing registered keeper information to support a scheme of the type being operated by WBC was and is illegal, and told it to stop. 

Despite WBC declaring the trial a success, the changes in driver behaviour it caused were negligible — average speeds on the streets covered by the pilot reduced by just 1-2mph. This is not enough to have an appreciable effect on pedestrian/cyclist safety or on vehicle-related emissions.

The same effects, and better, are consistently achieved by solutions that are a tenth of the cost of the solution used by WBC, which utilised a Home Office Type-Approved (HOTA) camera.

Radar-triggered Speed Information Displays (SIDs) provide a check on motorists’ progress. Often, simple outside reminders of their real speeds are enough to encourage compliance — as is being proven daily at many locations around the UK.

SIDs do not need HOTA and deployment/re-deployment is fast and simple. They achieve same effect as the WBC pilot, and better, without the need to issue PCNs.

To increase the range of technology options available, Truvelo has now developed Automatic Community Speed Watch (ACSW). This replaces roadside Community Speed Watch volunteers with an automated camera.

The camera used, Truvelo’s radar-activated VIA-Cam, is bi-directional. It can monitor traffic in both directions, in all light conditions across a wide temperature range (-15 to +50C), and measures all vehicle speeds above 5mph.

As well as increasing operatives’ safety, ACSW removes the subjectivity and fallibility of having humans involved in the monitoring process. It adds another intermediate step between SIDs and full enforcement, and enables local/roads authorities and the police to implement solutions which can be escalated in line with the incidence and severity of offences.

And, it is legal — ACSW is already in successful operation in the UK.

In Hertfordshire, on-grid and off-grid first-generation solutions are being used to monitor driver behaviour and generate warning letters to drivers, the entire scheme being funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Results have been extremely positive and the county is now looking at implementation of the solution at several other sites where poor observance of speed limits is seen as a problem.