From the switching on of the first “Gatso” camera over the A316 in Twickenham in 1992, the revenue raised from fines generated from the flashes emanating from the square boxes is approaching a billion pounds. However, it was road safety and not revenue generation that instigated the cameras, and motorhome insurance companies along with most other motor insurers have always taken more interest in their effect on the accident rate rather than it’s earning possibilities.
Interestingly enough an interview with the policeman who pioneered the cameras demonstrated that road safety was certainly the driver behind implementation, as that first camera in Surrey was set to go off when a vehicle travelled over 60mph. In fact the speed limit on the road was only 40mph and the idea was just to catch the worst offenders at what had been recognised as an accident black spot. Unbelievably that first camera caught over 22,000 drivers, presumably including many motorhome owners, who exceeded 65mph in the first 22 days. That is an average of 1000 drivers a day who would today be possibly facing a driving ban for being so far over the legal speed limit. Faced with such a casual regard for speed limits it is hardly surprising that the cameras were introduced in the first place, and little doubt that the first batch of cameras certainly reduced the accident rate.
Things started to change at the turn of the century when local authorities were given the right to cream off some of the cash generated by the machines by way of a Government grant. Suddenly cameras started sprouting up on roads across the UK. From just 1000 cameras in 1998, the figure surpassed 4,500 by 2007. In the year 2000 just over half a million drivers had been caught in the flashing light; by 2007 the figure had gone to almost two million. By this time motorists were of course wary of the cameras, and to keep a steady flow of income authorities reduced the amount of leeway drivers were given on their speed.
And it is cash that has put the future of the Gatso in doubt. After 2007 the Government slashed the grant to local authorities for the implementation of the cameras and all of a sudden they became a less attractive proposition. There are now fewer cameras and fewer fines for speeding being issued as local authorities turn their attention to parking and bus lanes to raise revenue, which does raise the question of where safety issues sit in the long run and if accident rates matter that much to some local authorities?