The high profile expansion of the North Yorkshire speed camera van fleet is a response to the perception that many motorists routinely drive at five or 10mph above the speed limit.
But, this being so, it seems a fair guess that the anonymous officials who set these limits do so at a level five or 10mph below the speed they consider acceptable.
Little wonder then that those prosecuted form only a small and more or less random sample of offenders and we find ourselves with the anomaly of a crime which carries no social stigma.
One way of addressing this would be to prosecute on the basis of a driver both exceeding the limit and being in, say, the fastest 20 per cent of drivers for the location and conditions. We then avoid the impression that a fine is something that could happen to anyone.
Speeds would be ‘herded’ downwards as motorists seek to avoid falling into the prosecuted group. As actual speeds become more compliant with the limits, we can revisit the question of what limit we really want to impose.
Another approach would rely upon the likelihood that, while a substantial proportion of drivers may casually allow their speed to drift above the limit, only relatively few will actively overtake a vehicle which is travelling at the maximum permitted speed. What we need is a large fleet of mobile traffic calming units.
We have the potential for this in the many people professionally involved in law enforcement, traffic management and local government. It could be made a condition of service for officials, local councillors, magistrates and police on non-emergency operations or off duty, from the chief constable downwards, that they have speed monitoring equipment fitted to the vehicles they drive and that they are open to prosecution, disciplinary action or public disclosure on the basis of the results. This could be extended also to members of the public who want a lower limit for their own street.
As well as providing a practical means of slowing traffic this would do much to free the enforcement system from of the corrosive whiff of hypocrisy.