Why technology makes our roads safer and the air cleaner – the enforcement industry and ITS

Safety cameras were first introduced to the UK in the 1992 using 35mm wet film to capture the evidence of a speeding vehicle.  Before that, a Police officer had to actually witness an event, which was seen as literally hit-and-miss, particularly in high-collision areas, and extremely labour intensive.

Cameras were introduced not, as some mistakenly believe, as revenue raisers, but as ways of reducing incidents on the most dangerous stretches of road.

In the intervening years, wet film cameras have been superseded by digital versions and, by using automatic number plate recognition technology, average speed cameras.  These were first implemented in Nottingham in 2000.  They calculate speeds of vehicles over set distances by monitoring the number plates of vehicles as they pass fixed points on the road, then calculating the time taken compared with how long it should take if the vehicle was driving at the speed limit.  Vehicles taking less time can therefore be shown to be going too fast.

The introduction of these cameras has had a significant road safety benefit.  For example, on three different roads in Scotland reductions in the numbers of people killed and seriously injured is down between 31 and 56% [1], while another scheme in Coventry has reported injuries down 88% on their first four routes [2].  An average speed scheme in North London won an award for its effect on cutting speeding and anti-social behaviour on a main route and surrounding residential streets [3].

In Ireland, a speed camera network using mobile enforcement has made a big difference.  Authorities estimate that every year the system saves 23 lives, avoids 40 serious accidents and generates €70 million (£60 million) in savings for Irish society [4].

However, automatic enforcement does not only improve road safety.  Highways England’s new variable speed limit scheme to allow vehicles to safely travel over Suffolk’s Orwell Bridge more often during storms is being supported by a flexible average speed camera solution.  The scheme involves new electronic signs on the bridge near Ipswich displaying enforceable, changeable driver speed limits, mandating speeds as slow as 40 mph depending on wind speed.  Until now the A14 bridge has had to be closed completely when wind speeds are deemed dangerous, but now will only need to be shut on the rare occasions that gusts over 60 mph are predicted [5].

By reducing the number of people driving too fast, and introducing more uniform speeds across a section of road, the amount of braking and accelerating is reduced, which has positive effects on the environment.  For example, in 2018, five roads in Wales were identified where vehicle emissions have a direct impact on air quality because NO2 concentrations are above the limit of 40 µg/m3 (EU Ambient Air Quality Directive – 2008/50/EC). To improve the situation, the speed limit was initially reduced to 50 mph. The prerequisite for the success of such a measure is to maintain the prescribed speed. Many drivers had ignored the speed limit and the hoped-for positive effect had failed to materialise. So, since 2019, four routes have been monitored average or spot speed cameras.  In March 2020 a report was published which provides an updated summary of the NO2 concentrations recorded at the five sites on the motorway and trunk road network. It says average speeds are below 50mph and compliance is much greater (September to December 2019) when compared to the data recorded between June 2018 and August 2019. The trend is decreasing for annual concentrations of NO2 at all five sites. It appears that the measures that have been implemented are effective in reducing concentrations [6].

Likewise, the introduction of Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones across the country would not have the effect they need without automatic enforcement systems to sort out vehicles which are able to drive in the zone, and those which should either pay a fee to do so, or face a penalty notice.  With poor air quality in UK causing between 28,000 and 36,000  premature deaths each year [7], these clean air zones are a vital tool in improving air quality – without enforcement, we cannot expect any benefits.

It’s not just speeding that can be enforced through technology.  Box junction contraventions, banned turns, bus lane misuse and restricted access violations are all monitored using video analytics [8] [9].

Children going to and from school are kept safe by unattended CCTV analytics too.  Examples include using HD cameras to enforce the no entry zones around schools [10].  Cameras can also be used to ensure people are not stopping on keep clear lines outside schools. 

It is not only on the roadside that Intelligent Transport Systems have made a difference, improving efficiency and reducing the need for large numbers of staff.

When automated systems were introduced, one of the significant challenges was collecting, uploading and reviewing the photographic evidence and issuing a notice to the vehicle owner within 14 days. Police staff used to manually review each reel of film, manually record the number plate details (VRM), manually retrieve the vehicle keeper details from the Police National computer (PNC), manually generate the notices and so on.

Now, a back-office solution has processed millions of speeding and red-light traffic offences, automating a traffic offence from initial capture through to court proceedings if necessary.  Evidence and fairness are key to a successful camera enforcement programme, and Police forces are under increasing pressure to process more traffic offences with dwindling staff resources. The software enables the processing of more offences with fewer staff. This operational efficiency has helped to close the ‘Justice Gap’ where a significant number of offending motorists just simply ‘getting away with it’ because a Police force did not have the notice processing capacity.

For example, in 2013 North Yorkshire Police were processing less than 40,000 traffic offences per annum. In 2014 they introduced a processing system, and now they are processing up to 120,000 violations per annum without significantly increasing their staff headcount.

Technological advances include the use of dashcam footage to prosecute bad driving and using back-office systems to manage the identification and processing of uninsured vehicles

“As a rule, road safety improves significantly when road users are all ‘doing the right thing’ and complying with all relevant laws,” explains ITS (UK) Enforcement Forum Chair Geoff Collins.  “Whilst most people intend to follow the rules, some require something of a nudge and this is very much where ITS plays a role.  Technology is a highly efficient and effective way to encourage compliance, without the need for police or enforcement officers everywhere, all of the time.

“For example, cameras can be located outside schools, operating during pick up and drop off times, ensuring that drivers don’t park on zig zags or yellow lines, thus causing an obstruction and a potential hazard for children as they cross a road.  Such an approach is a simple way to increase safety at the most hazardous time, without being seen as heavy handed.

“The fact that enforcement ITS solutions do not only deliver on road safety, but on air quality and productivity show what a genuine benefit they have delivered to the country, and with new solutions being invented all the time, they will only get better and more valuable in the future.”

[1] https://www.traffictechnologytoday.com/news/safety/transport-scotland-to-deploy-average-speed-camera-network-on-a82-a85.html

[2] https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/average-speed-camera-figures-speak-19484982

[3] https://highways-news.com/jenoptik-average-speed-installation-wins-road-safety-award/

[4] https://www.rse-egis.fr/en/solution_egis/gosafe-the-speed-camera-network-that-saves-lives/#:~:text=The%20Irish%20authorities%20have%20carried,in%20savings%20for%20Irish%20society

[5] https://highways-news.com/jenoptiks-flexible-speed-enforcement-solution-underpins-new-storm-safety-scheme-on-the-a14-orwell-bridge/

[6] https://www.dailynews-online.com/intertraffic-innovations-2020/news/jenoptik-cameras-tackle-roadside-no2-concentrations/

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/public-health-england-publishes-air-pollution-evidence-review

[8] https://www.marstonholdings.co.uk/videalert/moving-traffic-enforcement/lb-of-barnet-videalert-cctv-systems-for-moving-traffic-contraventions/

[9] https://www.marstonholdings.co.uk/videalert/moving-traffic-enforcement/london-borough-of-barking-dagenham-switches-cctv-enforcement-to-videalert/

[10] https://www.marstonholdings.co.uk/group-case-studies/videalert-case-studies/redbridge-pilots-school-streets-programme-with-videalert/

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