Speed cameras in the UK

Speed cameras have become a permanent fixture on the UK’s roads since they were introduced in the early 1990s. They were introduced to tackle the problem of motorists travelling over the speed limit and the threat of serious injury and death that habitual speeding carries with it.

Legislative basis for speed cameras

Exceeding the speed limit is an offence under s 89 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Sections 23 and 40 of the Road Traffic Act 1991(RTA 1991) introduced a new s 20 into the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, which allowed evidence collected on camera to be used in proceedings for a speeding offence. RTA 1991 inserted s 95A into the Highways Act 1980 to give highway authorities the power to install and maintain speed cameras on or near the highway. These Acts combine to:

  • give local authority powers to install and maintain speed cameras;
  • provide police with powers to require information about the identity of a driver;
  • allow evidence generated by speed and traffic light cameras to serve as the only evidence against an offender (providing the technology used is approved by the Home Secretary);
  • allow for the conditional offer of a fixed penalty which can be sent through the post, thus allowing more offences to be dealt with.

Guidance on the use of speed cameras

Department for Transport guidance on the use of speed cameras require that:

  • speed camera housings be coloured yellow;
  • camera housings should not be obscured, eg, by trees, bushes or signs;
  • cameras be visible from 60m away in 40mph or less zones and 100m for all other speed limit zones;
  • signs should only be placed in areas where camera housings are sited or where mobile cameras operating;
  • mobile speed camera operators wear fluorescent clothing, and their vehicles should be marked with reflective strips;
  • camera sites be reviewed at least every six months to ensure cameras are properly visible and signposted.

All authorities operating the speed camera system are expected to abide by these rules, but it is not a defence against a speeding charge if you’re caught by a speed camera which falls short of the rules.

The DoT recommends that speed cameras be located in areas where many speeding accidents have occurred. Before cameras are installed, other measures to improve safety (eg, improving road layout, anti-skid surfacing, enhanced visibility) should first be considered.

Penalties

The penalty you receive if you’re caught speeding by a speed camera depends on the seriousness of the offence (ie, how fast you were driving).

Minor offences

A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) will usually be issued for minor speeding offences (ie, driving between one and 10mph over the speed limit). This means you won’t have to go to court but you will receive a £100 fine and three penalty points on your licence.

You can challenge the FPN in court, but if you can’t convince the court of your innocence the fine you have to pay will be increased.

If your offence was minor, you may be offered the chance to go on a speed awareness course. This is a one-day course, where you will be taught about speed limits and the consequences of exceeding them. You’ll have to pay for the course yourself but if you successfully complete it, you will avoid having to pay the fine or receiving penalty points on your licence.
The police have the discretion to take you to court even if you’re driving at these speeds and if you’re convicted you’ll face a fine of 25-75 per cent of your weekly wages (up to a limit of £2,500), plus three point on your licence.

Serious offences

For more serious speeding offences, you’re likely to be summoned to court and prosecuted. The police must lodge the summons with the court within six months of the offence.
If you’re convicted of breaking the speed limit by between 11 and 21mph, you’ll face a fine of between 75 and 125 per cent of your weekly wage (up to a maximum of £2,500), as well as driving ban of between seven and 28 days or 4-6 points on your licence.

For the most serious speeding offences (driving more than 21mph over the speed limit), you’ll be taken to court and if convicted be handed a fine of 125-175 per cent of your weekly wages (capped at £2,500) and be disqualified from driving for between seven and 56 days or be given six points on your licence.

Mitigating/ aggravating factors

The above penalties are starting points only: the court has the discretion to reduce or increase the sentences depending on whether there were mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Mitigating factors include:

  • no previous convictions or no relevant/recent convictions;
  • good character and/or exemplary conduct;
  • genuine emergency established.

Aggravating factors considered will include:

  • previous relevant convictions;
  • committing the offence while on bail;
  • location of offence (eg, near a school);
  • driving for hire or reward;
  • carrying passengers or heavy load;
  • poor road or weather conditions;
  • driving LGV, HGV, PSV etc;
  • towing caravan/trailer;
  • lots of nearby traffic or pedestrians.

Speed camera detectors and jammers

Certain Global Positioning System (GPS) technology can warn drivers of published camera sites or posted limits. These are legal under the Road Safety Act 2006 as these are deemed to complement the government’s policy of ensuring that camera sites are visible and conspicuous to drivers. GPSs working in this way are considered beneficial as, alongside the existence of speed cameras, they help deter excessive speeds on the roads.

If you use a device which stops a speed camera from performing its functions such as a radar and laser jammer, you could be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, or obstructing the police.