03 July 2007

Have LIBERTY got nothing better to spend their money on?

I am a big fan of Shami Chakrabarti. No really I am. I think she is a very good speaker, concise, eloquent and she makes some cutting points when it comes to real liberty issues like rendition, 90 day detention and on the rare occasions in the UK where individuals have been treated harshly by government legislation.

But spending money in support of motorists who just want to avoid speeding restrictions demonstrates how wayward Liberty as an organisation have become...

With the smoking ban coming into effect on Sunday, there have been renewed articles in the press about smoker's civil liberties being infringed (there are even articles suggesting our cultural heritage and artistic expression will be damaged - (it seems any madcap idea will do to protect this dirty habit - smokers are getting increasingly desperate)). If they wasn't so serious it would be funny...

Those who think speed cameras and smoking bans infringe civil liberties are the sort of people who are giving the Human Rights Act a bad name. These sorts of cases are more about boosting lawyers and lobbyist's pay than about boosting civil liberties. What IS crystal clear, is that the rights of non-smokers to go where they like and breath cleaner air have most definitely been improved - liberties are not a one way street - every action has an opposite...etc. Thankfully Liberty have not taken up the smokers case yet but after supporting speeding drivers, who knows what bandwagon they will choose next.

Motorists are a powerful lobby and those who whip up a popularist campaign against speed cameras get a great deal of favourable press, so indeed do the smokers lobby (backed by the profits of tobacconists).

Liberty is a small organisation with around 9,000 members (about the same as the BNP). It probably thought to itself, here is a cause that will increase our profile and membership - lets get drivers on our side. This really is a cheap unprincipled thing to do, as the motives of those involved were nothing to do with protecting their right to silence and everything to do with their right to break the speed limit (infringing the rights of vulnerable pedestrians, cyclists and any other road user). Wongablog has a nice post about what he thinks of it all.

He argues if you want to drive faster - then campaign for higher speed limits not against their enforcement.

The arguments I have heard against speed cameras usually run something like this;

1. Speed Cameras do not reduce the overall accident rate (and some claim they even increase it).

The idea is that the driver's attention is distracted by speed cameras and that monitoring speed levels distracts your attention from safe driving, causing stop-go driving, heavy braking etc which in turn causes extra hazards for other drivers as cars speed up in areas without cameras etc.

This really is a spurious argument. Indeed this anti-social, dangerous culture does have to be changed - but abolishing speed cameras is not the answer - this is more an argument against enforcing speed restrictions than cameras themselves. Cameras are fair because unlike people they do not discriminate. Apparently the police are more likely to let off with a caution white, middle class people and attractive females - what a surprise eh! The evidence suggests that speed cameras DO reduce accident rates - which is not surprising when you think about it - what would you prefer, a poor driver driving slow or fast?

2. Speed cameras are just about raising revenue.

Even if this were true and it isn't, isn't it fair to fine people who break the law? Why is it that breaking the speed limit is so defended. No other form of law breaking is defended like this. It is hardly rocket science to figure out that driving faster than speed limits will result in more fatalities.

3. Finally speed cameras infringe our civil rights.

Please, give me strength. The right to silence is in danger because people don't want to pay their speeding fines - this really is an abuse of our sensibilities and courts. Those people in countries that really do have civil rights problems must be thinking we have gone completely mad to even suggest something like this.

I am sure there are other arguments, but these are the main ones as far as I can see and I really find the whole thing laughable. What it boils down to is that middle class white people preferred the old system because it meant they could speed without having to pay fines - that is it, end of story.


  1. 100% in agreement.

    I suspect part of the reason they've come out with this tripe is the woolly hunch that the separate phenomenons of speed cameras and surveillance cameras are somehow linked.

  2. Thanks, it is not often someone agrees with me.

    I think you are right about their logic. Liberty do an important job if only they concentrate on the real issues.

  3. Speed cameras are about increasing revenue and are dangerous. Every study about them I have heard of confirms this. The fact that they are "fair" in that they enforce an arbitrary rule consistently is not a good thing compared to not enforcing it at all.
    To answer your question no it is not fare that people who break the law are fined, it is fair that those deserving a fine are fined, the fact that they broke the law in no way implies this.
    Just because you don't sympathise with the defendents does not mean their civil liberties were not infringed. It's not Guantanamo Bay I'll admit, but if you're going to throw away civil liberties to raise revenue why not throw it away to combat terror?

  4. Can you cite me some of this evidence you have. Do you really believe that speed is not a factor in the accident rate (check out this link in my post).

  5. Neil - I think it's an interesting point of principle. I don't share the views of these speeders, but sometimes you have to check if the rights of people you don't agree with still need to be protected. I am uncomfortable with your smears about Liberty - at what point does the membership being the size of the BNP become relevant?

    I'll declare an interest by the way - I am a member of Liberty.

    If I got caught by a speed camera (unlikely) I'd just pay up because I'd deserve the fine, however I do question the siting of a few I've seen. I agree I'd rather a poor driver was going slowly, although given the numbers of fines being handed out, poor drivers still seem to be zooming past the cameras.

  6. Comparing the size of LIBERTY with the size of the BNP was to demonstrate just how little support LIBERTY have - in no way was I saying they were in any other way similar.

    I do however think that LIBERTY should have better things to spend their money on than supporting speeding drivers (whatever the point of principle). This is the problem I have with organisations like this - I think they have disappeared up their own principles without considering the consequences of their actions - what about the liberties (and safety) of people who want to see the speed limits enforced? Don't their liberties matter?

    As for the siting of speed cameras - I am sure some of them are poorly placed (but the only genuine excuse is if the speed limit is wholly inapproriate or poorly signed not whether the cameras are visible or not) - but if we want to talk principles, lets talk about why these things were made visible in the first place. Should we not be observing the speed limit without 'looking' for cameras. In my opinion they should all be hidden and if you don't want to be caught breaking the law then DON'T SPEED. It was only the power of the driving lobby that got these cameras painted bright yellow and then such a fuss was made about them being in visible places. In you like principles so much - surely you recognise that camera visibility is besides the point - if you break the speed limit - you deserve to be caught. If you like speeding think yourself lucky - in Sweden - built up residential areas have 15mph approx speed limits (and 20mph variable speed limits in poor weather conditions elsewhere).

    20mph limits reduce road deaths by 57%, speed cameras reduce deaths by 51%. Death versus drivers speeding rights? I think losing your life is a bigger threat to liberties than defending speeding drivers, don't you?

  7. if you break the speed limit - you deserve to be caught

    Neil, maybe I wasn't being clear - I agree 100% - that was why I said if I got caught I'd pay up and look cheerful. Clearly speed limits aren't perfect - not least because there are plenty of cases where you could pass a camera at a legal speed but still kill someone if the speed you were doing was inappropriate for the conditions. I was livid when that Police driver caught doing 139 mph trying to see what his car was capable of was let off. I don't think anyone has the right to kill someone else by driving like a moron, but it's not all about speed (though I don't have a problem with laws and limits in this connection).

  8. Oh right thats ok then. If I was a member of Liberty I wouldn't be happy with them about this - that was my main point.

  9. Neil:

    You seem to be confusing "civil liberties" with a "social good" or perhaps "something Neil likes".

    The smoking ban is explicitly raising a social good (fewer health problems from passive smoking, no stale fag smell in your hair (well, OK, my hair...) etc.) over a civil liberty (in this case, the right of the owner of a pub to decide what behaviour he permits on his premises).

    At its most fundamental, it's an erosion of property rights. For ownership to have any meaning, I have to be able to control the fate of my property (otherwise it can't really be said to be mine). So if I own a pub, or a restaurant, I get to decide what activities I allow there.

    It may well be a reasonable constraint to impose on my rights over my pub, but it is clearly a constraint on my right to use my property as I see fit. Just because a constraint is sensible or worthwhile doesn't somehow turn it into "not a constraint".

    I'm not sure where your mythical "right not to get smoky clothes" comes from. There is an arguable health and safety right for pub employees to be free of smoke, but the "right" of people to voluntarily enter a smoky atmosphere and demand that it stops being smoky has been mystically created out of whole cloth.

    It may well be a social good to have smoke-free pubs, but that doesn't create a civil right to have it.

    I'm pleased to see that the old "dead people have had all their rights infringed, therefore we should impose constraint X, because it might save the life of just one child, and you can't complain about civil liberties because you can't enjoy liberty if you're dead" canard has made itself known, too.

  10. Anon: I never said the smoking ban wasn't a constraint on smokers - of course it is, but there are constraints on non-smokers without a ban.

    It is fine in principle to say non-smokers have a choice - but in practise we didn't.

    The choice was clearly this;

    If you wanted to use a bus stop - you might have a choice between standing in the bus stop and breathing in cigarette smoke or getting wet in the rain. Surely your rights to use that bus stop have been infringed by the smoker?

    Same with getting a job in a pub or wanting a drink there- unless you accepted stinking of cigarettes that choice was not available. There were no pubs that were non-smoking.

    This idea that it is the choice of the property owner is also disigenuous. The owner might well want his property to be non-smoking - indeed I knew some landlords that wanted this ban - because they knew they would lose too much money if they went non-smoking when other pubs didn't- that is not a proper choice. The choice was between accepting smoking or havng a threat to your financial security - no choice at all. If given a clear choice they would have gone non-smoking.

    It was a prisoners dilemma - the majority (91%) support this ban. Even a majority of smokers support this ban - but they couldn't have it unless it was made law and all pubs abided by it.

    The government tried everything it could to find a compromise on this but there was none. yes smokers cannot smoke where they like anymore - it is a minor inconvenience to a minority - but the majority have had a much bigger inconvenience removed from their lives. Liberties are not a one way street. All actions affect somebody - it is where you draw the line that is important - not trying to keep to some mythical principle that does not exist in reality.

  11. The fact that conventional speed cameras are still used (as opposed to 'average' speed cameras) suggests that they are indeed for increasing revenue.

    You cannot get away with speeding with average cameras but with conventional cameras, motorists accelerate and brake all the time (which is actually more dangerous than travelling at a constant speed slightly over the limit) - and there's always enough who get the timing wrong and are flashed.

    So if the idea was really about general speed reduction, average cameras would be used everywhere but unfortunately there would be next-to-no revenue generated.

  12. I am in favour of raising revenue through speed cameras.

    In fact I cannot think of a fairer way to raise revenue than to penalise those who disregard the law for their own anti-social pleasure. Unfortunately the driving lobby is so powerful the government won't do it. In fact the few measly millions that are raised (out of the government budget oi over £500 BILLION are certainly not attractive to the government in political terms. This is just rightwing bullshit to claim speed cameras are about revenue - they are not - but I wish it were true.

    I have been driving for nearly 20 years and covered about 150,000 miles and never been caught by a speed camera. It is a novel idea I know, but if you drive SLOWER than the speed limit and abide by the law - it is not that difficult to avoid a speeding fine - you will also find your petrol consumption drops saving you money and doing less damage to the environment!

    'Braking and speeding up' are the drivers fault not the speed cameras. The speed limits in this country are actually pretty high. 20mph limits in urban areas could save many many lives (as they do in Sweden).

  13. Just a reminder that speed limits in this country are MAXIMUM limits in PERFECT conditions. People tend to aim to drive at the speed limit (or in excess of it) and in most conditions they should be driving well below it. 30 mph in some urban areas is very fast indeed.

  14. Neil,

    I do a lot of A-road and motorway driving and I can assure you that in bright sunny conditions there aren't many people sticking to the limit. I say bright and sunny because most drivers are actually sensible enough to moderate their speed in adverse conditions. It is a royal pain (and dangerous) when the guy in front slams on the anchors upon approaching a not-very-obvious camera (and yes I keep a safe distance).

    As for built-up areas then, yes, clearly driving at speed is inappropriate. Like you say 30 is too fast on some roads (narrow roads around schools etc) but I find most people drop to 25 or 20 of their own volition.

    Always drive appropriately for the conditions. If I'm doing an environmentally-sound 50mph when every one else is doing 80 then I'm actually a hazard.

  15. Guido, we have a speeding culture in this country - I understand perfectly that some drivers will pressure others to drive faster - but this is wrong and it has to stop. The reason we have this culture is because the government have been too soft on speeding and not enforced the speed limits properly - if they did enforce and properly get the message across of how many people die through speeding then the culture would soon subside.

    It is a sort of perverse Orwellian logic to say the guy driving 50 is a hazard and the guy driving 80 is not.

  16. It is a sort of perverse Orwellian logic to say the guy driving 50 is a hazard and the guy driving 80 is not

    Not when you're the only guy doing 50. It's the speed difference between drivers that's hazardous - all other things being equal.

    I've been on an A-road doing 70 (honest!) and coming round a bend up behind a guy doing around 45. There was no slip road nearby so I didn't expect it and had to brake pretty hard. That guy was a hazard - no question. So is the guy doing 50 when everyone else is doing 80.

    It's not just some drivers. When the majority are speeding on a particular stretch of road it's safer/less tiring to travel at a similar speed - call it democratic driving. Again I'm talking about A-roads and motorways.

  17. Doing 70mph around a blind bend doesn't sound very safe to me. I reckon both you and the 45mph guy were both hazards - but at the end of the day - good driving is about anticipating hazards and driving at an appropriate speed to deal with them - I would say you were driving too fast was more the problem than him driving too slowly.

    I have driven at 55-60mph on the motorway and as well as being safer, it was less tiring than driving at 70 and definitely less tiring than driving at 80 (which seems to be the unofficial speed limit for some people). They are in the wrong, not the careful drivers who drive a bit slower - it is unacceptable.

    There is no written law that says you have to drive at 70mph just because that is the MAXIMUM SPEED LIMIT allowed or because everyone else drives this or faster. In fact we should drive at less speed than this - sometimes a lot less than this is certain conditions. Of course there are practical minimum limits - people shouldn't be driving less than 45mph in good conditions on the motorway or dual carriageway realistically (unless they have a good excuse).

  18. I didn't say blind bend. This was a major dual carriageway. No sign indicating sharp bend. No SLOW written on the road. I was also doing the same speed as everyone else, except the 45mph guy. I just happened to be the one in front in my lane. If there was something wrong he should have his hazards on.

    Fine if you want to drive at 55-60 in the lorry-lane. What is tiring is continually pulling in and out. It adds up on a long journey. Personally I find it easier at 80 in lanes 2,3 and 4 since I am doing the same speed as the other drivers (less lane changes) and also cutting about an hour off my journey (definitely less tiring). We might be all be in the wrong but we are mostly driving safely apart from the idiots who tailgate but you will get those at 30,40 or 80mph.

    Anyway that is my final post on this matter. We clearly won't agree!

  19. So you were driving at 70mph round a bend but didn't realise it was a bend because there was 'no sign'. Give me a break. It is never the fault of the speeding driver is it? Always other drivers who 'drive slow' or 'bad signing' or whatever.

    At the end of the day if you have to brake sharply it is NEARLY ALWAYS because you have not slowed down to anticipate potential hazards.

  20. OK you last-word merchant you.

    "didn't realise it was a bend"

    is another deliberate misrepresentation of what I said.

    The only significance of the bend was to reduce visibility from about a mile to half-a-mile, obscuring my view of the cars in front overtaking the slow driver which in the absence of hazard lights was the most important visual clue. It was not 'sharp' in any generally accepted sense. There was 'no sign' precisely because it didn't deserve one.

    It's not like I screeched up behind the guy. Just had to brake hard enough to give me a scare.

    "anticipate potential hazards" - *everything* is a *potential* hazard so that statement is complete BS. One must keep an eye on *developing* hazards, unless you really expect everyone to drive at 45 on a dual carriageway because there is always the potential for someone in front to be doing the same. Absolute bollocks.

    "NEARLY ALWAYS" - perhaps, but "NEARLY" is the operative word.

    You have tried and failed to "refute the example". A logical fallacy anyway so you're wasting our time.

  21. "refute the example"

    And that means don't even think about taking my guesstimated distances (from hazy memory) and calculating speed, thinking time, braking distance to try and portray me us unsafe.

    That would be very, very lame.

  22. I am not trying to say the guy driving at 45mph was not in the wrong - I am sure he probably was...but ALL of us have to get away from a driving culture that says it is acceptable to drive at the MAXIMUM speed limit of 70mph on a dark road on a bend where it caused you to brake hard because someone was doing 45mph. Don't you think you should have been going a little less than the maximum in those circumstances?

  23. Neil Harding said...
    I am in favour of raising revenue through speed cameras.

    Make your mind up - do you want people to speed or not?
    Wouldn't it be better not to raise revenue - otehrwise the richer you are, the faster you can go, surely?

  24. Ok, I would prefer nobody broke the speed limit and cameras raised no revenue, but how likely is that? Of course it is not all about fines, there is a points system. As for the rich - I would change flat-rate fines and make the fine proportionate to wealth - like they do in some other countries (Germany). I certainly think motorists are mollycoddled at the moment and the victims of this are many thousands of dead pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.

    What I meant was that speed cameras should be hidden and motorists should be given no excuse to speed. This initially at least would raise revenue, but in the long term if the speeding culture changed, I would be delighted if the revenue disappeared, so you are right I am not in favour of raising revenue through cameras (as such) but I cannot think of a fairer 'tax' than one on those people whose anti-social, dangerous behaviour is financially punished.