The automated speed enforcement system in Great Britain: between a technical revolution and administrative continuity

AuthorLaurent Carnis
Date01 December 2007
Publication Date01 December 2007
/tmp/tmp-17BjeDiEdm95oy/input International
Review of
The automated speed enforcement system in Great Britain:
between a technical revolution and administrative continuity
Laurent Carnis
At the start of the 1990s, Great Britain implemented a national programme of
speed checks that includes more than 5000 check locations. The coverage of the
road network then allows increased surveillance of users. The deployment of this
system constitutes a ‘technical revolution’ in the manner of operating the checks.
The results are convincing; a reduction in traffic speeds and an improvement in the
road casualty toll. The system is also based on an original concept: local partner-
ships coordinated by a national office that must self-finance their operations. The
speed camera programme is thus also an example of the implementation of a
policy influenced by New Public Management. In fact, there are obvious parallels
between the operation of the new automatic speed equipment and that of the
traffic police tasks provided by police forces. In summary, the technical revolution
will be combined with administrative continuity.
Points for practitioners
The introduction of automatic speed checks in Great Britain is a practical example
of the implementation of automatic equipment replacing roles previously provided
by other organizations, which will attract the interest of practitioners working on
institutional change. It also allows us to discern the consequences of the introduc-
tion of a tool arising from new technologies, to understand its implementation
into existing administrative practices and the change in relations with users. Finally,
the operating methods for the equipment organization, divided between a centre
responsible for strategy and local partnerships responsible for operational imple-
Laurent Carnis is a researcher at the ‘Institut National de Recherche sur les Transports et leur
Sécurité’ (The French National Institute for Transport and Safety Research) in the Group for the
Analysis of Road Risk and its Governance.
Copyright © 2007 IIAS, SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore)
Vol 73(4):597–610 [DOI:10.1177/0020852307083462]

598 International Review of Administrative Sciences 73(4)
mentation within a financial framework requiring self-financing, are an original
example of taking over an activity traditionally devolved to police organizations.
Keywords: deterrence, offence, offender, police, radar, road safety
Although speed has been recognized for a long time as a factor generating acci-
dents, the techniques allowing its control have substantially improved in the last few
years. In future, vehicles could be fitted with speed controllers or limiters. Progress has
also made possible the improvement of detection and punishment techniques.
Speed can be checked by radar linked to computer systems allowing almost com-
plete automation of the checking and punishment procedure, so limiting human
Different countries introduced these checking systems some time ago. Numerous
studies and evaluations have been made on different experiences of automated
speed control. Their aim consists essentially in evaluating the deterrent effect on
drivers (traffic speed, proportion of offenders and number of speeding offences com-
mitted) and in identifying the impact on accidents so as to make any recommenda-
tions for public policy (Blackburn and Gilbert, 1995). However, despite a copious
literature, no systematic study has been made of the implementation process, nor of
the institutional framework in which the deployment of automatic systems occurs
(road safety system organization, respective places of automatic and manual speed
checks, legal framework, public policy directions).
This contribution is concerned with this dimension by studying the introduction of
the British system of automatic speed checks, which constitutes a technical ‘revolu-
tion’ based on a specific institutional organization (1.1) and presenting notable effects
in accident and financial terms (1.2). However, its organizational and institutional
analysis indicates continuity in the implementation of administrative principles
inspired by the New Public Management (NPM) (2.1) already in use in the regulation
and road traffic fields provided by police forces (2.2).
1. Automatic speed control: a technical revolution with remarkable

1.1. Historical perspectives and organizational elements
The organization of the British ‘safety camera programme’ has changed in the course
of time. It currently has 5000 speed checking units. This makes it a relatively large
programme when compared to other systems.1 Its impact on the number of accident
victims is significant (1745 killed or seriously injured victims saved each year) and
represents a considerably gain for British society (£258 million saved at society level
for the 2003/04 financial year; Gains et al., 2005).
1.1.1. The progressive introduction of an automatic speed control programme
The term ‘British system’ is to a certain extent inappropriate insofar as there are in
effect not one, but two, independent automatic speed control systems.2 In fact,

Carnis The automated speed enforcement system in Great Britain 599
Scotland has had its own system since the devolution process which gave autonomy
for the province. Although the systems share numerous common characteristics in
the method of operation, they nevertheless remain clearly independent (Department
for Transport, 2006; Scottish Safety Camera Programme, 2004). The present study
discusses both systems because of their similarities.
The British system for automatic surveillance of traffic offences is called the ’safety
camera programme’. It comprises about 7000 checking locations for speed limit and
traffic light compliance checks. In fact the name for the automatic speed control
system is the ‘speed camera programme’. It is based on about 5000 check sites
spread over the whole country and operating at random (Mountain et al., 2004: 280).
Historically, the system developed in three stages. In 1991,3 the Road Traffic Act
recognized the possibility of punishing excess speed when this is detected by photo-
graphic equipment. The authorities thus modified the law and gave the judges the
power to punish an offender detected by this type of equipment. Circulars (Circular
Roads 1/92 and 1/95)4 specified the conditions for installation and marking of these
systems. In 1992, the West London Speed Camera Demonstration Project, a pilot
project, opened the way for the installation of these new systems.
Very soon, difficulties in the extension of the automatic checking system were
identified. The financing was inadequate. In fact, the installation and maintenance
costs were borne by local authorities and police forces, while the income was paid to
the British Treasury (Hooke et al., 1996: 24–5). The British authorities thus decided to
experiment with another system. So in 2000, experiments at eight pilot sites evalu-
ated the opportunity of deploying self-financing systems (netting off schemes) as
part of ‘local partnerships’. This experiment also answered the detractors of these
systems, who accused the government of using them for parafiscal purposes. As a
result of the success of the experiment, the principle of self-financing local partner-
ships was selected and generalized to the national level from 2001. This third phase
opened a process of progressive consolidation of all existing local systems into a
homogeneous and coordinated national programme.5
1.1.2. The organizational dimension
The ‘handbook’ is an operational guide to
the implementation and operation of the system. It emphasizes the professionalism
and care that characterize the checking system. It specifies the governance methods
at national and local levels, but also their interweaving (system checking rules, audit
and certification procedure, use of the income generated by the system). The condi-
tions for the location and marking of checking positions are clearly defined and so
allow the operation of the system to be harmonized.
To install a checking site, there must have been a minimum of four killed or seri-
ously injured per kilometre (length of site concerned) over the previous 36 months.
The threshold is set at two killed or seriously injured per kilometre over the same
period for a mobile system (Department for Transport, 2004: 30). Other systems can
be installed if there is clear proof of a problem associated with speed and on condi-
tion that the sites does not represent more than 15 percent of the total system
activity. The British system thus comprises the ‘core sites’ or central systems, excep-
tional systems (exceptional sites) and occasional systems close to road work zones
(roadwork sites). To these different categories of systems must be added the ‘non

600 International Review of Administrative Sciences 73(4)
programme sites’, meaning the automatic sites that do not form part of the national
programme and which are thus not affected by the constraints linked to member-
The governance of the system is supported by a dual national and local structure.
At the national level, the Department for Transport supervises the operation of the
national programme. The ‘national safety camera programme board’, comprising key
participants in the system (representatives of the Transport and Health Ministries,
representatives of the Welsh and Scottish provinces, and representatives of local
systems), provides an advisory...

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