NEW MOTORWAY “stealth” cameras could be painted yellow to make them more conspicuous after complaints from drivers that their use is underhand.
Ministers have ordered a review into the new generation of devices, called Hadecs3, which are painted grey and mounted at the side of motorways.
The Sunday Times earlier this year revealed that the cameras were in widespread use and that hundreds of drivers had been sent speeding fines. Motoring organisations, including the AA and RAC are critical of the technology because the small cameras are difficult to spot, and do not require the distinctive white road markings that warn drivers of other types of speed camera.
Now Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, has asked the Highways Agency, which manages Britain’s motorway network, to justify its policy of installing grey cameras. This weekend the Agency, an arm of the government, began investigating whether painting them yellow would significantly affect road safety and congestion. If not, they are likely to be made more visible.
The review has been implemented as a direct result of fears raised by drivers. “Motorists had real concerns that law enforcers could be accused of simply treating speed cameras as a cash cow rather than a means to increase speed limit compliance,” said Pete Williams, head of external affairs at the RAC. “We welcome the review as clear recognition that tackling speed by stealth is not an appropriate way to maintain the trust of motorists.”
In 2001 the government advised that all fixed speed cameras should be painted yellow. John Spellar, then a transport minister, said: “The object is to get people to slow down, not to catch them.” Advice issued by the Department for Transport states that cameras should be painted yellow or plastered with a yellow reflective coating, so motorists can be aware of where enforcement is being carried out.
The Highways Agency said this advice should not apply on motorways because the cameras were installed to ensure vehicles kept to a steady speed to improve the flow of traffic. Most other cameras are installed to cut speeds at a particular accident blackspot.
“To the driver, a camera is a camera, whether it is set up to keep traffic flowing or not,” said Edmund King, president of the AA “There is a good road safety argument for painting them yellow: on a motorway, you should not constantly be looking at your speedometer.
“You need your wits about you, and you should be taking into account traffic around you across all lanes. A visible speed camera can prompt you to check your speed, but one catches you unawares is not doing its job of acting as a deterrent.”
Roads officials are say that more visible cameras may encourage drivers to brake hard ahead of them, and then speed away once they have passed, but King said that the current situation is worse. “There is a lot of equipment by the roadside that looks incredibly like these new speed cameras – particularly CCTV. People are concentrating on looking for these and braking sharply, without warning, when they see them.”
Each Hadecs3 camera can monitor four lanes of motorway traffic. They are used on sections of so-called smart motorway where variable speed limits are used. Unlike most existing motorway speed cameras, they are always on and will catch drivers speeding when the limit is at the default 70mph.
The first devices were installed on a section of the M25 in Kent last year. More cameras have now been installed further along the same road in Hertfordshire and there are plans to deploy scores more on motorways including the M1, M4, M5 and M6. Within the next two years, up to a third of all motorway miles could be on smart sections, which are monitored by cameras.
“Smart motorways smooth traffic flow and cut congestion for millions of motorists while maintaining safety,” said a Department for Transport spokesman. “We have asked the Highways Agency to consider how the colour of the cameras on smart motorways can affect the behaviour of drivers and then advise on next steps. The Highways Agency has begun this work.”