Wednesday, 1 April 2015

It's Not The Getting Caught, It's The Speed

I was interested to read about our politicians' recent predilection for dystopian nanny-state policies in this Telegraph article - Stealth cameras to be installed on motorways. Basically, these camouflage cameras (clearly just a way of making lots of money through increased speeding fines) will catch drivers unawares, and once these devices become ubiquitous they will all but enforce a 70mph speed limit for every driver on every motorway in the country.

While this is annoying and most unwelcome, what struck me as strange is that from what I've seen the general objections to this seem to be focused on the fact that these cameras are stealth cameras, when the real issue is not whether the cameras are hidden or not but whether the speed limit is right. For what it's worth I think the 30mph and 40mph speed limits in built up areas are about right, but motorways (and the major A roads) should be higher. But whether it's right or not is surely the only real issue here.

I should imagine the situation is roughly like this. If you think the speed limit is wrong then you're going to object to stealth cameras as an exacerbation of a current wrongness. On the other hand, if you think the speed limit is right then logically you should have no objection to whatever tactics are used to catch people speeding, any more than you would object to devices that catch theft, vandalism and graffiti.  Yes, I grant you, theft, vandalism and graffiti are different crimes to speeding, but that doesn't invalidate the point - the rationale works for all cases; that the annoyance is not annoyance at stealth tactics to catch offenders, it's annoyance at the speed limits being too low.

Put it this way, suppose a new stealth camera was introduced, but only for vehicles exceeding 140mph - there would be far fewer objections, because almost no one has any trouble with the notion that 140mph is a crazy and dangerous speed to drive. Given the foregoing, the vast majority of complaints about stealth cameras seem to me to really be complaints about the speed limits - because if the following applied in that you a) agreed with the speed limits, b) considered the speed limit levels to be contributing to safer driving and fewer injuries and deaths on the road, and c) supported laws that prosecuted people for breaking the speed limit - then you should have no objection to devices like stealth cameras being used to catch offenders and make the roads safer.

I'm not in favour of them because I'm not in favour of the current speed limits. If, for example, I thought the motorway speed limit should be 95mph, then rationally speaking I could have no objection to stealth cameras that caught out any driver doing 96mph or more, any more than if I thought theft, vandalism and graffiti should be outlawed I'd have no rational objection to any stealth devices the police wanted to use locate incidences of theft, vandalism and graffiti, so long as those devices didn't encroach on the freedoms of ordinary citizens, of course. As much as I enjoy fast driving, it's hard to deny that if the speed limit was as high as I wanted it to be, say 95mph*, then stealth cameras that penalised 96mph or more would only infringe on the liberties of drivers breaking the law.


*Adjust the variable according to your own preference