03/11/2006 00:00 | By By Tom Evans

Speed Cameras - everything you need to know

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Speed Cameras - everything you need to know

Most fixed speed-cameras must by law be located in areas with a history of accidents, however, many people, as well as motoring organisations, dispute this. In a recent poll of drivers, the RAC found that 72 per cent of motorists thought speed cameras were "more about raising revenue" than safety. Moreover, there have been changes in the way cameras operate in recent years which is one of the key reasons why the numbers ensnared has risen so sharply.

The key one is much higher use-rates – that is to say the number of cameras with film inside them has gone up; moreover, the digital GATSO is becoming more common, and these need no film at all and have no limits to the number of drivers who can be caught. Finally, the thresholds on many cameras have been lowered; whereas in the past you could be speeding by perhaps 15% and still avoid a penalty, this is no longer the case with many cameras. Stories abound of people being fined for driving at 33mph now.

Watch out too for the mobile cameras. Recent figures show that the number of cameras hidden on motorcycles, police vans and cars have risen by 34.5 per cent from 2,601 in 2003 to 3,499 last year. Mobile-cameras may soon outnumber fixed-ones. While there are firm rules about fixed-sites, requirements for the use of roving cameras are far less strict - a minimum of only two fatalities in three years allows their use.

While three points is not a huge problem, high-mileage drivers can easily and quickly build up to 12 points and a ban relatively easily if they do not pay attention to their speed and the presence of speed cameras – with potentially severe consequences for their lives and in many cases their livelihoods.


There are many myths surrounding speed cameras – here are the key ones:

Myth 1: One in five drivers believe you can drive fast enough to beat a speed camera.

The reality is that the vehicle would need to be travelling at 171mph or above to technically 'outrun' a standard speed camera; few cars on the road are capable of that kind of speed. Even if you do have such a car, attempting this is a very high risk strategy, as just 1 mph below 171 and… well it’s safe to say that most judges take a very dim view indeed of drivers who drive 100 mph over the limit and you will end up in the clink for quite some time.

Myth 2: Speed cameras can't take photos of reflective number plates.

This story comes around on a regular basis. Tests show there's no plate on the market that can outsmart a speed camera.

Myth 3: Speed cameras can only catch cars in the left-hand lane.

If only… Speed cameras take shots across all lanes (you will see the marker lines on the road). If you are on a single lane carriageway and move onto the opposite site of the road in the hope of avoiding the camera, you will not only still risk getting caught speeding, but could of course face a further motoring offence.

The Worst cameras in Britain

The infamous camera at the end of the southbound M11 approaching London

The infamous camera at the end of the southbound M11 approaching London

The most lucrative cameras in the country were thought to be located on the M42 in Birmingham. In autumn 2004 there were 12 cameras located along a 7-mile 50 mph section of the road, catching 1700 motorists a day, yielding £100,000 in daily fines.

Anyone who has ever used the M11 knows this one though: When first installed in 2000, this camera (pictured right) positioned near the end of the M11 just after the limit suddenly reduces from 70 to 50 mph on the southbound carriageway, caught a record 2,000 motorists breaking the law in just 24 hours.

Top tips to avoid the dreaded double-flash:

The main way to avoid getting a fine and points from a speed camera is of course to always stay below the speed limit at all times. However, this is sometimes easier said than done:

1. Be aware of the limit at all times. In the ‘olden days’ before speed cameras most people had at most a passing understanding of limits in especially sub-urban areas where limits can be anywhere from 30 to 60 mph, and change regularly. This attitude today can be very injurious to your licence, your insurance premiums and perhaps even your ability to drive at all.

2. Be aware of when the speed limit changes significantly. These are where most speed camera fines are incurred. For example, when a B-road 60 mph limit turns into a 30-mph limit as the road goes through a village, or when temporary road-works invoke a temporary limit. In both cases, a Gatso can be relied upon to put in an appearance shortly after the limit’s signs.

3. Be aware that tall lorries in other lanes frequently obscure speed-limit signs and cameras.

4. If you drive a lot and need to for work, consider investing in an electronic device which reminds you of the speed limit at all times – there are several available. There are various types available but be warned - the types that detect the radar or laser emissions from cameras may become illegal next year under new road safety legislation currently before parliament. However, GPS-based ones will remain legal. These devices basically measure where you are via satellites and compare it to an on-board database of where all the cameras are located. This data is kept up-to-date via mobile phone or via a PC connected to the internet. You can either pay a commercial company or there are free files you can download which are updated by its community of users.

5. Digital speedometers. This early 1980s fad rapidly became highly unfashionable again but now they appear to be making a comeback since they make maintaining precise speeds much easier – They can found on the Toyota Yaris, the Citroen C4 and Renault Modus for example, among a growing number.

6. Insurance. You can insure yourself against losing your licence due to incremental minor speeding offences.This will pay for taxi and other costs. They will not however pay out against wanton loss of licence because of drink-driving, dangerous-driving and other serious offences.

The devices on the roads:


A large grey box mounted on a grey post, pointing at white markings on the road. Alternatively the internals can be mounted in a car or van for portability. You'll find them everywhere but one in seven of fixed sites are dummies.

Each roll of film takes 800 frames. Police gauge which sites are best for catching people and move the cameras accordingly. Be warned however - they are being gradually replaced by digital models which have no limits on their 'productivity' whatsoever.


This is a CCTV camera mounted on a gantry with a black tube (its infrared illuminator) next to it. Two cameras are set a minimum of 200m apart. When a car crosses a loop under the road the first camera is triggered. The process is repeated when the vehicle passes the second camera. The duration of time between snaps calculates average speed. Their natual habitat is Notts and Gloucs. but they are now roaming further afield. It reads number plates from the front so won’t catch motorbikes, and only monitors one lane. It’s digital so uses no film; and because it doesn’t use radar, detectors can’t ‘see’ it.


This resembles a large black hairdryer, held at arm’s length by a police officer - Every police force in the land uses at least one of these - usually many more. Radar signals bounce off moving cars to tell exactly how fast the vehicle is travelling. Operators aren’t supposed to sit in their cars and use a hand-held radar device. Range is only 500m. Unsuitable for dense traffic, it does work at night.


This resembles a glorified dashboard-mounted digital stopwatch. When you pass a pre-determined point (usually a white square painted on the road) the officer presses a button and presses it again when you pass a second point. The unit calculates speed by using distance over time. It is in approximately half of all marked and unmarked traffic police cars; parked by the side of the road; tailing or in front of you; in helicopters. It can’t be used in built-up areas, can’t be used at night, and can only check one vehicle at a time.


These forward facing cameras are designed to take pictures of the front of a car, allowing the authorities to identify the driver. It takes a single shot as opposed to Gatsos which take two in quick succession, and it has no flash as it uses infra red technology. These are becoming more common as some motorists have escaped conviction because they claim not to know who was driving at the time of the offence. This camera takes away any doubt about that.

Traffic light cameras

These are predominantly more common in London and large cities, but this camera can record drivers who go through red lights. The camera is triggered by sensors in the ground which reacts when a car drives over them a few seconds after the light has gone red. Today, more and more are being replaced with digital versions that don't produce a flash and which can record motorists who speed up to get through the lights.


Sensors in the road, linked to a mobile van, calculate your speed over a fixed distance. The vans are often hidden and difficult to spot, but it is used to photograph offenders passing over the strips in the road too quickly. The vans visit the sites frequently but in a random pattern so you can never be sure when there is one nearby. There must be warning signs, either fixed or temporary, when the camera is in use.

What to expect if you are caught:

Your penalty will depend on your speed. The fixed penalty charge is £60 and three points on your licence but higher the speed, the larger the fine (up to £2,500) and the more points you’ll get (up to six). Double the prevailing speed limit or over 100mph and your licence will be taken away.

The Government’s view is simple. It wants to cut the number of killed and seriously injured on our roads by 40 per cent for 2010. And it believes the best way to accomplish that is to slash speeds. Its message it that speeders will be punished with impunity.

If a camera catches you, it may dent your wallet more than you thought. According to the Association of British Insurers: ‘Whether you were charged a higher premium for three points varies from company to company. Six would definitely be taken into account and some companies may only offer third party cover. If you get disqualified and you need cover during the disqualification you would definitely be charged a higher premium.’ This is the case even though during the ban while you are obviously not driving - and would not be insured for driving accordingly - you obviously still need to insure your car if it's on the road to the minimum standard of 3rd party insurance. If it is a valuable car you should also insure it against theft; comprehensive cover though obviously would not be necessary during a ban.

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