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When is a speed camera not a speed camera?

When the government says so, of course

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News that the long government tradition of simply renaming unpopular concepts to make them "disappear" or become more palatable to a hostile public, comes with the Department for Transport announcement of the launch of www.nationalsafetycameras.co.uk.

So, in the same way that Windscale nuclear plant became Sellafield (and thereby completely and utterly benign at a stroke), speed cameras are henceforth to be referred to as "safety cameras".

This feeble piece of jiggery-pokery will serve only to further infuriate British motorists who are increasingly convinced that 98 per cent of UK police resources are directed into the lucrative business of fining speeding drivers while octogenarian war veterans are battered in their homes for their life savings by drug-fuelled illegal immigrants who act with complete impunity.

It is, of course, completely scurrilous to suggest that the Old Bill are waging an all-out war against motorists, as some UK tabloids have suggested, and www.nationalsafetycameras.co.uk is out to put the record straight.

Naturally, Road Safety Minister David Jamieson is enthusiastic about the site and wasted no time last week reiterating the government's commitment to road safety: "Speed cameras save lives. The Government has demanded that cameras are visible and conspicuous to motorists and placed only in areas with high level of casualties. We expect local camera partnerships [the bodies responsible for administering cameras] to be upfront and transparent in their efforts to curb speeds and save lives."

Hold on a minute, what are those cameras called? Tut tut, David - didn't have your Newspeak dictionary with you at the press conference eh? And, for the record, it was public and media pressure which led to speed/safety cameras being "visible and conspicuous" and placed "only in areas with high level of casualties", rather than hidden in hedges beside any potentially high-earning stretch of road.

What's more, here's a couple of examples of "upfront and transparent", taken from the website's Q&A section:

Q3 - How many 'safety cameras' are there currently in England and Wales?

We have no precise figure. The placing of cameras is a matter for local authorities and the police. Guidance on deployment is provided in Circular Roads 1/92.

The 3000 figure often quoted probably refers to the number of camera housings (as opposed to live cameras). If all mobile sites are included, 5000 would be a closer estimate. However, the majority of fixed housings do not contain cameras and the number of live sites at any time would be in the region of 1000.

Q10 - How many offences do speed cameras deal with per year?

This information is available from the Home Office.

Q11 - If a proportion of the fine revenue from speed enforcement cameras is given to the police how can we be sure that the police focus will not shift to obtaining fines rather solving 'real' crimes?

The use of speed cameras does not need uniformed attendance thus facilitating uniformed resources to be re allocated to other crimes.

Q13 - Is this not another example of "bashing" the motorist?

On the contrary, this will be of benefit to all people, including motorists. Cameras are already shown to save lives - more effective, targeted use of cameras will save even more lives, many of which will be motorists.

Hmm. Rather more illuminating is the site's Hints section, which contains precious little in the way of hints, but does have a mouth-watering gallery of some of the mobile speed-camera units currently roaming the highways of Blighty. We can't help feeling that once the anoraks get wind of this, trainspotting may become last year's "must do" leisure-time activity.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Government's rebranding will see an end to enraged speed-jockeys blowing up, shooting and torching static cameras.

Alternatively, driving within the speed limit at all times would resolve the entire issue at a stroke. Sadly, it's clear that this suggestion of moderation is our equivalent of asking an American to hand over his hunting rifle. The right to bear down on other vehicles at high speed is the yardstick by which our democracy is today measured. ®

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