Do speed cameras really save lives? 

As motorists, we may fret when we see speed cameras along the roads we are travelling on. We are conditioned to think that the government only wants to take our hard earned money and are installing the cameras as a means to do so. 

But have you noticed that in areas with speed cameras, there are usually signs erected in advance to tell you that there is a speed camera ahead, and that you should slow down to avoid getting fined or given demerit points.

But how effective are these speed cameras? Do they really help to save lives by reducing the number of traffic accidents?

We will be looking at various studies done in other parts of the world, which compare the statistics before and after the speed cameras were installed.  

Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science have found that speed cameras are effective at reducing the number of accidents and road deaths, based on a study monitoring speed cameras for 24 years from 1992 to 2016. These speed cameras reduced accidents by between 17 - 39 percent and fatalities by 58 to 68 percent, in areas within 500 metres of the speed cameras.

The study analysed collision outcomes both before and after the cameras were installed across 2,500 sites in England, Scotland and Wales. Also interesting to note is that there was a slight increase in collisions beyond 1.5 kilometres of the camera’s location, probably due to drivers suddenly braking before the camera to avoid fines, or speed up once they are out of the range of the cameras. 

So we’re off to a favourable start, where a study has concluded that speed cameras really do save lives by reducing the number of road traffic accidents, even if it means a slight increase in collisions further away from the cameras. 

There is also another study done in the USA, which has the same results. A study done in Montgomery County, which studied the effect the speed camera has on traffic accidents over a 7 year period. it concluded that speed cameras reduced the likelihood of a driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph (16kmh) by 59 percent, compared with similar roads in two nearby Virginia counties that did not have speed cameras. 

The main point is this :

Speed cameras get drivers to ease off the accelerator, and crashes are less likely to be deadly at lower speeds

The study also found that moving the speed cameras to different locations had a positive effect of reducing the likelihood of a crash involving fatal or incapacitating injury by an additional 30 percent beyond the use of cameras alone. 

This is because drivers will slow down overall as they are not familiar with the exact location of the cameras. 

But another important takeaway is that public awareness is also important, as cameras succeed in changing drivers’ behavior only if drivers know about them. In the case of the study above, more than 75% of drivers said they had reduced their speed because of this program. 

It’s starting to look like speed cameras can really help to reduce the number of collisions and deaths on the road, but there are also studies which claim otherwise. For example, this study from the UK found that while fatal and serious collisions near 551 fixed speed cameras dropped by 27% after the cameras were installed, it also found that at 21 speed camera sites, the number of collisions appeared to have increased.

Of couse, there are many more studies out there with their own findings and results - so it’s not so easy to say that speed cameras work favourably. 

So what does this mean on the whole? I guess it means that while speed cameras do help to reduce driver’s speeds, thereby reducing the chance of a collision or road death, it also has to be made very clear to drivers that these speed cameras are in operation - and for a stronger effect, have the speed cameras change locations once in awhile so that drivers will generally slow down as they are driving along, since they do not know where the cameras are being placed.

In Singapore, we have seen many recent cases of drivers speeding and beating the red lights - which is why the Traffic Police have set up speed cameras, mobile speed cameras and even average speed cameras to deter speeding. But will all these initiatives work? It remains to be seen.

Click here for a list of fixed speed cameras in Singapore, mobile speed cameras, and the different types of speed cameras.