19 November 2007

Clarkson and Monbiot On Speed.

Jeremy Clarkson in Saturday's SUN has responded to George Monbiot's Guardian article from last week, which noted how...
Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson especially, incite criminal damage against speed cameras, give legal tips on avoiding payment of fines, claim speeding is safe and that cameras are vindictive, that cameras are counterproductive and stealth taxing and demonstrated that speeding at 170mph is too fast for the cameras to catch. Monbiot also goes on to point out the hypocrisy of a press that calls for stiffer penalties for every other crime, but thinks a crime that kills and injures many thousands every year is somehow, well ok.

After Clarkson used expensive lawyers and cost the taxpayer a fortune to avoid his own speeding fine earlier this year, maybe we should not be too surprised at his reckless attitude towards people and property.

Getting back to his Sun article, while graciously admitting that 30mph is 'too fast for some roads', Clarkson goes on to argue that technological advances in the making of cars, especially with tyres and brakes, have made our '73 year old' speed limits arbitrary and outdated. Clarkson also has a pop at Monbiot for using mere 'statistics' to show that speed cameras save lives.

For pointing out the dangers of someone like Clarkson popularly encouraging people to break the speed limit, people have accused me and Monbiot of being 'boring loser lefty whingers who want to inflict their misery on the rest of us' while Clarkson is 'highly humourous, entertaining and effectively harmless'. I, not surprisingly disagree with at least some of this analysis. Even if it were true that me and Monbiot were 'loser lefty misery guts', it would not alter the fact that we speak the truth, whereas Clarkson speaks a pack of lies (admittedly humourous lies that people want to hear). So at best, maybe me and Monbiot should enrol on a comedy class, but that does not say anything about speeding and cameras.

Lets see if, for once, me and the 'speedhead libertarians' out there can agree on some basic facts;

(i) All other conditions being equal, the faster you go, the more likely you are to have an accident, as you have less time to react to a hazard.

(ii) Reaction times are the biggest factor in accidents, and they have not changed. In fact it is arguable that the quiet cars of today have dulled our reaction times or lulled us into driving faster and braking later.

(iii) Speed Limits are supposed to be MAXIMUM LIMITS. Most drivers drive too fast (even within the speed limit) for the conditions they face, which is why we have so many deaths and injuries on the road.

(iv) 3,000 deaths and 100,000 injuries per annum is no joke (no matter how Clarkson phrases it) and we should do something to reduce this total.

(v) Speed Cameras reduce speeding AND even if you want to call the fines a 'stealth tax' - it is a cost on those who are caught fair and square driving over the speed limit - i.e breaking the law - so those who complain are just whingers - take your £60 fine with grace please (and before we go about those losing their livelihood - my friend who relies on his car for work, has 14 points and avoided a ban - everyone is now allowed to get caught FOUR times in 3 years - surely they only have themselves to blame if they get banned?

(vi) We can have arguments and debates over the siting of cameras, but surely we have to agree that it is right that they are currently mainly sited in spots where there has been several recent accidents.

(vii) There are plenty of warnings to the whereabouts of cameras, they are even painted yellow! Personally I think all cameras SHOULD be hidden - it sends out a wrong message to highlight them - i.e. only observe speed limits when you see a camera - rather than at all times (which is the law).

I hope that, if we can agree on most of these basic points, we can agree that trivialising breaking the speed limit is just no laughing matter - no matter how entertainingly it might be conveyed.


  1. This is worrying, I totally agree with you :-)

  2. I try to pick topics where the majority disagree with my position (because I feel that position is being ignored and needs highlighting), so you might find you are in a minority in supporting me on this. There are of course a lot of subjects where I agree with the overwhelming majority of the population - but I tend not to write about those things.

  3. 3000 deaths a year...

    Why don't you ban cars then?

    (And legalise guns).

  4. Angry Steve, if that was a legit question then the answer is - for everything you have to weigh the benefits to society against the harm it causes (and number of deaths) and find a balance. Guns hold virtually no benefit to anyone, cars do at least get people from A to B.

  5. I have never understood why speed limits are so contraversial. Why are people in such a rush? However I think there is a legitimate reason for relaxing the limit on some motorways, perhaps as a quid pro quo for more aggressive enforcement on tonw roads.

    Guns hold virtually no benefit to anyone

    Other than the million odd people in the UK who own them.

  6. Stephen, it is true that motorways are the safest roads and undoubtedly the limit could be raised a little above 70mph with little or any effect on casualties. I notice in Germany where the 'no speed limit' has been removed, the casualty rate drops. Also there is much discussion over there about the climate change effects - petrol consumption increases massively once you pass 70mph. I think we should have 20mph limits in town centres and that increasing the motorway limit would not helpachive that - it may do the opposite.

  7. Having a speed limit imposed for petrol consumption is a different point. The US reduced all freeway limits to 55 after the 73 oil embargo. However I don't see your point about 20 limit. It's completely independent of the question whether motorway limits should be raised.

  8. Neil, I agree with you to this extent - any time I hear a daft git saying speed cameras are a stealth tax I counter that they are suggesting prison is a stealth tax on burglars!
    Speeding's a criminal offence.

    The one thing I don't get though, is how so many people can be getting caught if the cameras really are helping - surely if they were working, fines revenue would be coming down.

  9. Urko, fine revenues are falling for individual cameras, but we have an increasing number of cameras and they are being set ever closer to the limits to catch more people.

  10. Stephen, There is no need to increase the max speed from 70. To increase one speed limit on motorways and lower others in urban areas would send a mixed message about the seriousness of speeding. Also the environmental factors of going faster than 70 are important.

  11. It would send the message that travelling fast on a motorway in good conditions is safe and that travelling even at 30 in some built up areas is dangerous. If that is a 'mixed message' then it is wholly sensible one to convey to the driving public.

    As I said, I have absolutely no problem with the enforcement of speed limits but there must be solid justification for the speed limit in question. Unless you are trying to push it as a fuel economy measure, then there is no good reason for retaining the limit at 70mph on motorways. I am content for a panel of road safety stakeholders to say what the new limit should be. My own view is that it should be flexible, with lower limits near town overnight to cut noise pollution, for example. Laws need to make sense. they cannot be wholly arbitary. The labour party appears to forget that one of the most important tenets of policing in the UK is that it is by consent.

    The state appears to recognise this condundrum by not enforcing the 70 limit except as part of road congestion measures or traffic blackspots and so on. My own view is that it should be more randomly enforced but to make that acceptable to the public, the limit needs to be seen as making sense as at present it doesn't.

  12. Stephen, I would argue that we keep or reduce the 70mph max limit on a fuel economy basis. I think a more flexible approach dependent on conditions is also welcome.

  13. The speed limits are outdated and need adjusting but the evidence for speed cameras reducing accident rates is one of the joyfully dodgy uses of stats.

    Speed cameras are usually put in place after an exceptional period of accidents. Then when the rate goes back down to the normal level it is claimed that the speed camera has done wonders.

    Lies, damn lies, etc.

  14. Falco, I think that is wishful thinking on your part. Can you cite me any (peer reviewed) paper that claims this?

  15. Neil,

    Falco's point is entirely correct and was acknowledged, finally, by the DfT last year. It's called "reversion to the mean" and is a basic tenet of statistical theory. As a result, the DfT claims that speed cameras improved the accident statistics were simply wrong.

    Frankly, any driver who claims never to exceed the speed limit, is a liar, or a menace.

  16. Joe, George Monbiot tackles the 'regression to the mean' argument and since 2005 it has been allowed for in the DfT figures - which still show a big drop in accidents where speed cameras are sited.

  17. clarkson4pm9/12/07 6:01 pm

    Reducing the speed limit on country roads, and increasing the limit on motorways, would send out the message that speeds limits are fair and rational.

    Fuel economy is a matter for the individual. We are already taxed heavily on fuel, so those who drive faster pay more. What more do people like you want.

    At the moment most people who speed think that speed limits are stupid and plucked from thin air. This is the mentality of the speeder, and things like cameras etc only enforce this opinion.

    Once drivers are treated like adults they will act like adults.

    It's all very well having cameras but everybody just speeds up once they have passed them. More traffic police catching dangerous drivers, instead of relying on the cameras to do all the work. The number of traffic police has dropped a great deal.

    We cannot create a rule that covers every situation - drivers will be in rain and fog on dark lanes where the speed limit is stupidly high.

  18. "Fuel economy is a matter for the individual" - why? I know some of you 'libertarians' question the legitimacy of government and even question democracy, but some things that benefit society need enforcement of laws for the benefit of all of us.

    Some drivers may not believe the speed limits are entirely fair and rational, but that is generally because there is a 'significant culture of speeding' out there just like there was a 'significant culture of drink driving' a while back. We shouldn't just give in to this - it is up to the government to stand up and change attitudes like they did with drunk driving. The benefits of enforcing and slightly reducing speed limits on all roads (saved lives) easily outweighs the cost (a slight increase in journey times).

    "It's all very well having cameras but everybody just speeds up once they have passed them". And why is that? - Because the driving lobby is so powerful they opposed hidden cameras. There is no justification for having cameras painted bright yellow. As long as speed limits are clearly shown and appropriately placed there is no excuse for speeding. Remember speed limits are a maximum not a requirement. If you feel safer driving at 25 then there should not be pressure to go faster. Human nature as it is, people will always push the boundaries and bend the rules, this is why the speed limits need to be reduced and heavily enforced so that the current speeding culture is changed. We owe it to the many thousands of families who have lost loved ones or been permanently injured. We all know of someone that has been killed or seriously injured on the roads - it is an everyday event too 'boring' to make the headlines. Well it is about time we re-addressed our priorities - we would never tolerate this level of death if it was murder (which it sort of is - a collective murder by default as drivers anti-social 'need to speed' overrides everything else.

  19. The speed cameras being painted yellow was a wonderful example of the anti speeding lot being hoist by their own petard. They argued that the cameras were necessary to prevent people being hurt at specifically dangerous points on the road. Having made this argument they could not legitimately object to people being able to identify these blackspots and therefore the cameras.

  20. Falco, that is not the reason at all. It was the speeding lobby that wanted them painted yellow. The cameras are sighted at accident blackspots, something the driving lobby disputed, but whether they are accident blackspots are not is irrelevant to this point.

  21. speeding lobby wanted them painted yellow. The reason the antis had to back down on this point is as I've said above. The antis manouvered themselves into a position where they were no longer able to argue for hidden cameras.

  22. I don't see why they couldn't argue for hidden cameras. The point is people would have to drive within the speed limits all the time with hidden cameras.

  23. Yes but that was not the argument they had been making to get the cameras that were there at the time in place. My argument is not about the right or wrong of hidden speed cameras but that the tactics the antis used, (safety at blackspots particularly), left them to give a coherent reason not to highlight blackspot cameras. Ergo, petard etc.

  24. Why couldn't they just highlight the accident blackspot and not the camera?

  25. Because the camera was supposed to be right on the blackspot. Why put up an extra sign beside the camera?

  26. If the cameras are hidden, you don't necessarily need to have a camera at every blackspot, just a sign saying there is a blackspot.

  27. That is both entirely true and nothing to do with what I'm saying. You can have all sorts of alternative methods to reduce speeding but the anti lobby had agued for blackspot cameras and so could not object to them being visible. The anti lobby had been arguing that signs at such spots were not enough so they could hardly argue for less cameras.

  28. Concerned of Cumbria22/12/07 2:36 am

    I have points on my licence,£230 fine, and costs of nearly £500 (I defended myself)for an offence I did NOT commit. The magistrates admitted the photographs supplied did not prove I was speeding... but accepted the word of a camera technician (who swears on the bible for a LIVING), that back at the office the pictures were clearer on the computer and showed I was speeding! I could not afford to appeal! The company making (and calibrating) the camera doesnt even bother to falsify the data on required by the Home Office Type Approval on their certificates - they simply omit it!
    Test case due in the new year!!

    Seven years ago, I received a FPN for speeding - and luckily I was on holiday abroad at the time, or I would have had a hard time defending myself on that charge too!!

    Cameras are not working, and are the cause of reducing traffic police numbers.
    If the REAL motorist who diverted his offence to my vehicle had been stopped by a policeman, his subterfuge would have been detected, and possibly other crimes come to light! I have an email showing over 300 sets of numberplates were stolen from vehicles in just one year, in one police authority area!
    Cameras are a cheap way of impressing people like yourself into believing that the government is actually doing something about road deaths and injuries. Unfortunately the truth is that people are still dying randomly, and areas with the most cameras seem to be performing poorest.
    Visit http://www.ex-parrot.com/~pete/notverygoodatstatistics.html for a fascinating insight as to why the figures dont add up the way the government want you to believe.