Whether you love them or hate them (and most bikers seem fall into the latter category) speed cameras are a major part of motoring in Britain.
Safety cameras, to give them their official name, have been used in the UK since 1992 when they were first deployed as a trial scheme in West London. The cameras, which were situated on the M40, reportedly used up a 400-shot film in just 40 minutes during initial trials due to the sheer number of speeding vehicles at the time, highlighting perhaps how habitual speeding was to motorists in Britain.
Today, more than 5,500 fixed cameras are found along the roads of Britain and if you have seen the dreaded flash in your rear-view mirror, you aren’t alone. Research suggests that 4 in every 10 drivers have at least three points on their licence whilst around one million licence holders are thought to be just three points away from a ban and figures released by the Home Office last week revealed that more than 1.77m tickets were issued by cameras in 2006, totalling to £106.4m in fines.
Riders in the Thames Valley were most likely to be on the receiving end of a penalty notice, with the local partnership collecting more than £8.2m in speeding fines in 2006 – in excess of £2m more than the next highest total, collected in the Metropolitan area of London.
For those riders, being snapped usually results in a fixed penalty notice of £60, three points on your licence and an increased motorcycle insurance premium whilst in more serious cases, a court visit, hefty fine and a driving ban are all potential sanctions.
But you might be thinking that you needn’t worry however. After all, various websites, books and the ever-trustworthy bar-stool experts are all on hand to give you tips and tricks on ‘beating the system’. Myths, theories and supposed loopholes have been around for as long as the dreaded yellow box has existed but unfortunately, the accuracy of such advice varies wildly and much of it is completely misinformed. Follow it and you could be landing yourself in even more trouble.
So here at Insidebikes, we’re on hand to debunk many of the common myths. Of course, the easiest way of avoiding a ticket is to keep to the speed limit and we would always encourage you to do so.
“The speed camera was actually invented to help people go faster.”
True. The speed camera was invented by Dutch rally driver Maus Gatsonides (hence the name ‘Gatso’) in the 1950′s. He tried to use cameras to measure how much speed he was losing on corners and then use the information to improve his lap times. He founded the company “Gatsometer BV” in 1958
“You can slow down for the camera and then speed up once you have passed it without being caught.”
Largely false. Whilst many speed cameras will only measure speed in a certain location, police forces and camera partnerships are increasingly rolling out cameras known as SPECS. These measure a vehicles average speed between the any two points, preventing motorists from hitting the throttle once they pass the camera.
“You can use a detector on your bike to warn you where the camera is.”
True. GPS-based safety camera detection systems are perfectly legal and their use has even been endorsed by the DfT as a perfectly valid road safety device. They are readily available on the high-street and many satellite navigation systems also include safety camera locations. Legal doubts do however exist over radar detectors and they are expected to be outlawed in late 2008 / early 2009 as they indicate whether or not a camera is active, rather than its location.
“You can get away with a speeding ticket by using a device which scrambles police radar.”
False. Radar equipment was commonly fitted to the vehicles of drivers who used electronic gates or garage doors yet the signals emitted from these devices could also be used to ‘jam’ signals from police radar guns, returning an error message to the police officer stood on the roadside. The police are wise to this trick however and although the devices aren’t illegal, you’ll have to convince the waiting traffic officer and the courts that the device is fitted for perfectly innocent means. In August 2007, Sheffield businessman John Eady became the first person in the UK to be convicted of perverting the course of justice for using such a device, resulting in a 12 month ban and a £5,000 fine.
“If you’ve been flashed, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get a ticket.”
True. Seeing the dreaded flash doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be seeing a notice of intended prosecution on your door mat. It’s widely believed that only one in four speed camera ‘flashes’ actually results in a prosecution notice. In addition, many speed cameras are switched-off at certain times.
“If you haven’t heard anything for two weeks, you’ve got away with it.”
In most cases, true. Safety camera partnerships must inform the registered keeper of any offence within 14 days. If you haven’t heard anything outside of this time, it is likely that you will not be charged with an offence. However, if you are not the registered keeper of the vehicle (for instance, if it is a leased or company vehicle), the onus is then on the registered keeper to inform the camera partnership as to who was driving at the time of the offence. In this instance, the 14-day time limit does not apply.
“If you get a £60 fixed penalty, send a cheque for £60.01 and you’ll avoid the points”
False. A particular favourite with bar-stool experts, the “1p cheque” theory is one that has been around for many years. The idea is that the police or camera partnership can only add points to your licence once all financial transactions have been completed. The offender therefore, upon receiving his £60 fine, writes a cheque for £60.01 and the police / camera partnership then send a cheque back to refund the 1p which, of course, never gets banked. The theory has been debunked however and the only thing that this method is likely to achieve is an additional charge for wasting police time and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
“You can avoid points on your licence by taking a speed awareness course instead.”
Often true. Some forces and camera partnerships will, in certain circumstances, offer you the option of a standard fixed penalty notice or the opportunity to attend a speed awareness course for a similar fee and avoid the penalty points. The course is designed to help motorists understand the consequences of speeding and encourage safer driving techniques. The course isn’t available in all areas however and even if the scheme is running in your area, you may not be offered the option depending on the severity of your offence. In addition, the course is only available to first-time offenders whose licence is not in its probationary period (drivers who have passed their test within two years).
“You can get a reflective spray or cover which obscures your number plate when a camera flashes.”
False. Whilst the claim is made by several products, tests have yet to find any form of spray or cover which obscures speed camera flashes.
“If you can drive fast enough, you can become ‘invisible’ to a camera.”
Largely false. Various claims have been made about this and anecdotal evidence from several tests has shown that a vehicle travelling at around 171mph would not trigger a Gatso camera. However, such a speed is impossible for most vehicles, aside from being incredibly dangerous. Also bear in mind that if you do set off the camera at such a speed, you’re looking at a charge of dangerous driving which, along with an obligatory ban, could result in a massive fine and even up to two years in prison.
“A speed camera has to be painted yellow and it must be clearly visible.”
False. It’s a common misconception that hidden cameras or cameras painted grey can’t catch you. The reality is rather different.
In simple terms, cameras painted bright yellow are operated by the local safety camera partnership. These are sections of local government, supported by the local police force, set up specifically to run road safety initiatives. They have to abide by strict rules on camera visibility and which roads they are deployed on. In return, the partnership is allowed to keep some of the revenue raised from penalty notices to reinvest in road safety initiatives, a process known as ‘netting off’.
Police speed checks, cameras operated as part of a national scheme or camera partnerships that are not part of the ‘netting off’ system do not have to meet these restrictions however and whilst they are usually signposted by the standard warning signs, the camera itself does not have to meet the same visibility restrictions. Any revenue raised from these cameras goes directly to the Treasury.
“If you don’t declare who the rider was, you can’t be prosecuted.”
False. Despite a number of high-profile cases, simply claiming that you “didn’t know who was driving” won’t get you off the hook. The Road Traffic Act states that you must disclose the name and address of the driver responsible for the offence. You are also required to know who was in control of your vehicle at any given time.
“You don’t have to tell your insurance company if you only get three points because so many people have been caught by cameras.”
False. It is a condition of your motorcycle insurance policy that you must inform your insurer of any changes in your circumstances. Failure to do this may result in your motorbike insurance policy being invalid. Whilst evidence suggests that insurers are tending to be more lenient on riders with just three points due to the increase in speeding convictions, you must still inform them and you should still expect to see an increase in your bike insurance premium.