Safety Cameras in Great Britain - The continuing debate
Enforcement cameras were first introduced in 1991 and the first deployment of cameras in anything like a systematic way was in West London in 1992 when 21 fixed speed camera and 12 red-light camera sites were installed and their effectiveness monitored (London Accident and Analysis Unit 1997).
In the early days the take up of automatic enforcement by police forces was modest. In 1994 there were 30 speed cameras and 54 red-light cameras but by Spring 1996 there had been continued growth with 102 cameras servicing 700 sites (475 speed and 254 red-light camera sites). Now there are an estimated 5000 safety cameras in use on British roads, nearly all of these are fixed and mobile speed cameras with the proportion of mobile cameras increasing all the time.
An early evaluation of safety camera effectiveness (Hooke et al 1996) demonstrated that the net benefit of speed cameras was five times the initial investment in the first year and more than 25 times after five years. For traffic light cameras the benefits were modest but positive. But a key barrier to more rapid deployment of cameras was one of resource. At that time fines from cameras did not accrue to the police forces who operated them but went to the Consolidated Fund of the Exchequer. The Hooke report concluded that there was a mismatch between where the costs and benefits lay. The costs were divided between the Local Authorities, who typically purchased and installed the equipment, and the police, who were responsible for installing and changing the film (cameras were all wet film in those days) and for processing the fixed penalty notices together with the courts. There were no benefits to these authorities in terms of income to offset these costs. The benefits accrued to individuals and society in the reduction of injury, distress and material damage. It was suggested that there was little incentive to reach optimal levels of camera use because greater use meant greater cost and burden on the police and courts.