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Tories, speed cameras, and Voluntary Idiot Tax

There are mild signs of upset at the Coalition opting to cut the number of new speed cameras. There shouldn’t be.

For one: speed cameras are, entirely, a voluntary tax on idiots. Most non-urban speed limits are far lower than the safe speed for the average vehicle on the road in question driven by the average driver; that’s a given. But if you know a road has speed cameras on it, and you don’t drive within the speed limit as a result, you either don’t care about not being fined, or are too inept to drive within the parameters laid down by the law. And if you don’t know a road well enough to know whether it has speed cameras, then you don’t know whether it’ll suddenly turn into something where the speed limit is actually the maximum safe speed.

But for two: the people who hate speed cameras and the way that they impede their slightly-faster progress to wherever they’re going (not the ones who actually get caught, but the ones who do know the road, drive slower-than-required, and wish they didn’t have to) have a reasonable utility argument: why should fairly nebulous claims about accident reduction – and all claims about speed reduction leading to accident reduction in non-urban areas without a pedestrian presence are fairly nebulous – take precedence over people’s time? After all, part of the economic case for high-speed rail consists of the time savings involved – surely we should take them into account here as well?

In short: of course the Tory-led government is going to cut speed cameras, because its support base consists of Tories and Clarksons whose primary concern is “getting there quickly”. Meanwhile, since the last government’s support base consisted of urbanites and people who wanted to raise more tax money from society’s moral dregs, of course they were going to support speed cameras.

If the anti-clampdown is focused on motorways and A-roads, then the real-world effect will be negligible, except that the tax burden will be shifted slightly from Mr Toads to bus-using Sparts. If it also includes mixed-use urban single-carriageways, then kids will die. Hopefully, the impact will be the former – in which case, all we can say is “party rewards its supporters at its opponents’ financial expense; world neutral”.

(note: *safety*-neutral. Obviously, shifting the tax burden from Mr Toads to bus-using Sparts will also tend to shift it from rich to poor. File under “well, yeah, check out the blue rosettes”).

  1. Tom
    May 25, 2010 at 1:54 am | #1

    London's experience (and Swindon's, IIRC) is that they will not discriminate between 'good' and 'bad' cameras, the whole lot stop. Hence it's a squarely a kid-killing policy (and, since poorer minority groups tend to have to let their kids walk more, a poor/black-kid-killing policy).

    It's another data point on the 'devolve power to city governments and then vote Labour in cities' argument, however.

  2. May 25, 2010 at 3:03 am | #2

    It's not neutral – bus users as a group are poor. Guess which form of transport saw a drastic fare hike from Boris Johnson? No shit,
    Sherlock…

  3. May 25, 2010 at 3:06 am | #3

    Yes indeed, ambiguity amended in footnote.

  4. Matthew
    May 25, 2010 at 3:41 am | #4

    Know any studies on whether or to what extent higher speed limits* do lead to lower journey times? I realise it seems obvious, but I vaguely remember something about it not being true on busy or fast roads as braking times get a lot worse.

    * Within practical boundaries, ie 70 to 80, or 40 to 50.

  5. May 25, 2010 at 7:38 am | #5

    It should be nothing to with central government and everything to do with local government; Their roads, their people. If visitors don't like it when one council builds lots, find another route.

    Other than that I agree that its an idiot tax, even though when it comes to motorways there but for the grace….

  6. Neil
    May 25, 2010 at 6:46 pm | #6

    @The Great Simpleton

    Interesting idea. I'm sure Devon County Council would be more than happy to stop funding all those bridges over the Tamar, to give one example.

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