Smile! You’re Speeding

December 6, 2008

Ah, speed cameras. Not a problem if you’re like me and know to watch for them. Then I slow way the hell down to a crawl while passing them, with cars behind me surely getting angry but, well, I’m doing this for their own good.

Except I did get caught by one earlier this year because it was hidden in a parked car. So I received a lovely photo of the back of my car and was out $40. Meh.

Anyway, the other day, saw this article come over NYRA’s youth rights news wire.

Why speed cameras hit over-60s hardest

Older drivers are six times more likely to be fined for speeding than a decade ago, according to a study which also reveals that young motorists have adapted far better to the increased use of speed cameras.

The number of older offenders may be higher partly because, unlike a police officer, a speed camera has no discretion, the study author says. Most speed enforcement a decade ago was carried out by traffic police, who often gave older drivers a verbal warning rather than a ticket.

The Department for Transport commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to analyse the age of offenders in two three-year periods: 1997-99 and 2003-05.

It found that the number of men aged 60 and over receiving penalty points for speeding increased by 540 per cent between those periods. Among women aged 60 and over, there was a 1,200 per cent rise, though starting from a very low base.

By contrast the number of drivers under 25 being caught for speeding grew by only 18 per cent.

The study, based on an analysis of the records of 300,000 motorists, also showed that in 2003-05 there were almost three times as many drivers aged 60 and over with speeding convictions as drivers aged under 25. In the 1997-99 period, young offenders outnumbered older ones by more than two to one.

The age group most likely to have a speeding conviction changed from 24-34 in the earlier period to 45-59 in the later period.

The number of speed cameras increased from fewer than 500 in 1997 to about 5,000 in 2005. The increase was partly due to changes in funding rules in 2000 that allowed police to keep a proportion of fines to pay for the cameras. That system, known as “cash for cameras”, was abolished last year.

Speeding convictions from cameras grew from 337,000 in 1997 to a peak of 1.91 million in 2004, before declining to 1.74 million in 2006.

Jeremy Broughton, author of the study, said that the low number of older drivers being prosecuted for speeding in the 1990s might be explained in part by police showing more leniency to them than to young drivers. “Police would have a mental image of the sort of person they were expecting to stop and if it was an elderly lady they wouldn’t look at her in the same way as a young male,” he said.

Rob Gifford, director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said that older drivers had been accustomed to driving on roads without cameras and would have found it harder to adapt when they spread across the country.

“Police may have given elderly drivers a telling-off rather than a fine whereas cameras are blind to the age of the driver,” he said. “It was wrong to be lenient with older drivers because they were posing a danger on the roads by ignoring the limit. Since the growth in cameras, the proportion of vehicles breaking the 30mph limit has fallen from 75 per cent to 30 per cent and deaths have fallen sharply.”

Mr Gifford said that the rise in older speeding offenders helped to explain the emergence of a vociferous anticamera campaign dominated by drivers in their fifties and sixties.

Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA Motoring Trust, said that older drivers had grown up with a different attitude to speed. “They were more used to driving at a speed they judged to be safe according to the conditions rather than sticking to the legal speed limit,” he added. “Older drivers have also had to cope with the introduction on many roads of lower speed limits imposed for environmental purposes.”

o snap

Ah, speed cameras, the great equalizer. Ever wonder if this is the reason everyone says young drivers are such menaces on the road? The stats get skewed against them because cops are more likely to issue them tickets, thus the speeding incident being recorded, than older people. Cop has no problem ticketing a driver young enough to be his daughter but will cringe at ticketing at one old enough to be his mother.

Do the stats lie? What a dumb question. But what we do have here is a rather big self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s the idea that young people are bad and old people are to be respected. And when put into practice by traffic cops such as in this case, we are left with stats seemingly supporting such a premise. Imagine that.

Stats don’t lie. But they don’t exactly tell the truth either.