Why not make speed cameras reward good drivers?

Carrot or stick? It’s a common policy debate – do you get the best outcome by punishing or encouraging?

Speed cameraAt the moment, it most frequently comes up in political debates over the environment, and in particular recycling. Can recycling levels best be raised by encouragement, such as discounts for recycling more of your waste, or by threats, such as legal limits on how much you can place in your bins?

It is a question that can be applied much more widely, which is why I was interested to see the initiative in Sweden where a speed camera records all the cars keeping to the speed limit with all the legal drivers going into a prize draw for cash prizes.

This neat idea could have a double benefit: tapping into the power of encouragement to get safer roads and also, by recycling the cash from the fines for speeding motorists, it could help rescue speed cameras from the cash cow curse.

That anyway is the theory. It is only a pilot and with different cultural attitudes in Sweden and Britain, what works there may not work here. Certainly worth a try here I think though. If you are involved in traffic decisions and reading this, how about giving a pilot here a try?

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  • Is each vehicle restricted to one entry per draw? Otherwise there is a risk that drivers will try to pass the camera as many times as possible just to maximise their chances of winning.

  • Why not remove speed cameras, and enforce the traffic laws through the presence of police on the roads who can make informed, human judgments on the overall safety of a driver’s performance? Or is the real purpose of the cameras not to make driving safer, but to generate revenue?

  • Colin Green 3rd Oct '10 - 8:59pm


    “if someone is breaking the speed limit they are, by definition, driving unsafely”

    Utter, utter rubbish! It is possible to drive perfectly safely at a speed in excess of the stated speed limit just as it is perfectly possible to drive dangerously at a speed below the limit. Speed limits were decided by political will, nothing more.

  • Andrew Suffield 3rd Oct '10 - 9:17pm

    It is possible to drive perfectly safely at a speed in excess of the stated speed limit just as it is perfectly possible to drive dangerously at a speed below the limit.

    However, it is not possible to do either on a road with other cars driving at the speed limit and with pedestrians and cyclists expecting cars to be driving at the speed limit, which is why we have laws about this stuff.

    If you want to mess about in a car, go to a private racetrack. If you want to travel, do so at the speed limit. It’s not difficult.

  • Colin Green 3rd Oct '10 - 9:36pm

    Andrew Suffield,

    Ooo now, you’ve jumped to a conclusion there. Jane stated that the very definition of “safe” was driving at the posted speed limit. I was merely pointing out the nonsense of that assertion, not advocating driving at unsafe speeds. There are countless examples where the speed limit in force in no way relates to the safe maximum speed of a road, both higher and lower. Speed limits were set by political will. No account of safety was taken, largely because in the 60s when the speed limits were set, very little was known about road safety. The vast majority of road safety research was done in recent decades.

    The national speed limit of 60 MPH applies to all roads that have never had a specific limit set. It applies equally single track country lanes as to wide, straight trunk roads. The safe speed for each of these roads will be markedly different. Driving at a speed less than the legal maximum does not make you safe. Driving at a speed above the legal maximum does not necessarily make you unsafe. There are circumstances where driving above the posted limit, no matter how illegal or morally repugnant or Satanically evil, has a very low objective safety risk.

  • Even if you can only get entered once, it still gives you an incentive to drive past a camera, rather than walk, ride a bike, or catch the bus. A silly idea.

  • Richard Huzzey 4th Oct '10 - 7:59am

    There’s some interesting research to show that commodifying morality often leads to poorer results than relying on honour and duty. See this paper, for example: http://www.law.stanford.edu/display/images/dynamic/events_media/Do_Liquidated_Damages_Encourage_Efficient_Breach_Wilkinson-Ryan.pdf

    For this reason – not to mention the worrying civil liberties angle – I think this is a very bad idea.

  • There is always a blurry edge to the speeding debate. I would suggest that speed limits are set for a population of drivers, not any one particular driver. Although i would agree that over the speed limit does not always, and always is a strong word mean dangerous. I would say though if you consider a the full range of drivers.who use a road increased speed increases the risk and the severity of accidents as reaction times reduce and stopping distances increase. Im not convinced that a prize draw would encourage aggresive drivers to slow down. I do like the idea that it might improve buy-in as to there merits, which are numerous. The cash cow arguement is daily mail spin that helps justify to drivers why they are ok for getting speeding tickets. It lets people of the guilt hook for endangering other peoples lives.

  • Andrew Wimble 4th Oct '10 - 11:21am

    My issue with speed cameras has always been that there are many factors that lead to road accidents. Speed is one of them but definately not the only only one. The obsession with speed enforcement over the last few years has been driven more my the ease of enforcement using cameras than anything else. Tail-gating, sudden incosiderale lane changing, eating, drinking, texting, etc at the wheel are a few things that I am sure are at least as dangerous as speeding, but are very poorly enforced. At least where patrol vehicles are used to enforce speeding laws rather than cameras they can take other forms of danegrous driving into account, not just speed

  • Colin Green 4th Oct '10 - 7:27pm


    “speed cameras … are affective in reducing accidents.”

    Studies show that they are not, which is why local authorities are starting to reduce their numbers or simply turn them off. The effect seen is known as “regression to the mean” which is a statistical term that describes the actions of low frequency events like car crashes. The BBC website for the programme “More or Less” has a very good description of this very problem.

    “Colin Green — the speed limit on individual roads is set by the local authority accident prevention officer”

    and yet the overwhelming number of roads in this country are set to the default limits of 30 in built up areas and the national speed limit everywhere else.

    According to the DfT, exceeding the speed limit is the second lowest cause of road traffic accidents. The biggest causes of crashes in the UK are not looking where you’re going (35%) misjudgement of other car’s path (20%) Carelessness, poor car control, Defective road surface / environment (15%), driving too fast for the conditions but within the speed limit (7%), Pedestrians not looking, driving too close, sudden braking, Exceeding the speed limit (3%), vehicle defects (2%) [source DfT]

    “Anyone who drives above 60 is wasting fuel and needlessly increasing their carbon footprint”

    Which is why I drive an eco car and have a self imposed limit of 50 MPH on country roads and 60 or so (what ever the prevailing traffic is doing) on motorways and dual carriage ways. My insistence that exceeding the speed limit is not a big cause of road traffic accidents is not because I like to drive fast – I don’t – it is because that is what the facts are.

  • Mark – What about a webcam that films pedestrians walking over Waterloo Bridge, and one of them gets a prize if they don’t mug anyone while walking past the webcam?

  • Interesting idea but probably not very workable. Those that complain about camera enforcement often cite “creeping big brother” with photos taken by the government as one of the reasons to oppose camera enforcement. It seems like quite a leap to me in that vein to take a photo of every vehicle going through an area rather than just photos of the violators. I am personally more comfortable with having photos limited to the violators and not having photos than are tracking the movements of everyone.

  • This is a very interesting angle, but one of those things that seems silly to reward someone for following the most basic of traffic laws. Let the cameras and our cops do their job and catch the people who feel like they don’t have to follow the law.

  • It is an interesting idea, but I think the reward for driving within the confines of the law already exists. We avoid paying fines and are less likely to be involved in an accident. That should be enough of an incentive for people. Most are not going to drive the speed limit if they aren’t already for a 1:1.000,000 chance at a prize. The best way to stop negative behavior is with consequences in my opinion.

  • Nice theory, but negative re-enforcement is the only firm way to deter reckless driving.

  • Turning cameras into positive reinforcement strikes a key with me – so much out there is negative. I’ve even notice public radio trying this with each donation going into a pool for a great prize. I think cameras work – but this positive twist is interesting.

  • What a great idea. I love it.

  • would be a good idea but I dont think it would work in reducing traffic accidents. Lets be for real here. Anyone that breaks the law should get a ticket.

  • While I am a fan of positive reinforcement- I don’t think it has a place in traffic laws. The positive side of following traffic laws is that you don’t get a ticket and when you stop and think about it- that is a pretty positive thing. The people that can’t see the value in NOT getting a ticket, will hopefully see the deterent in getting one.

  • We don’t reward people for not murdering others, so why should we reward people for not breaking laws on the road? Seems to me that we need to make sure people obey laws that keep others safe, and doing so needs to be our priority. Safe streets are better for everyone.

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