SWITCHING off speed cameras was a bad idea, the county council cabinet member for transport has said after road deaths rose for the first time in at least four years.
County roads claimed 28 lives in the last financial year – the first since police turned off fixed speed cameras and since the Casualty Reduction Partnership (CRP) was disbanded in April last year – up from 23 the year before.
Only one casualty happened within 50 metres of a fixed camera site and police have handed out almost as many speeding tickets using mobile cameras as they did with fixed cameras.
But with the number of road deaths since January this year already only five short of the total for all of 2011, Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage has criticised the switch off.
He said: “The chief constable made the decision to switch off the cameras, which I would not have encouraged.
“It was the choice of the police to switch them off, but I wouldn’t have informed the public.
“That was their reaction to their financial restrictions. We couldn’t stop that happening but we encouraged them to leave the housing there.”
Road deaths dropped each year from 74 in 2006 to 19 last year, but in the past financial year 26 fatal collisions caused 28 deaths. And there have already been 14 deaths in the first three months of this year.
In 2010-11 23 fatal collisions caused 23 deaths.
Police handed out 21,950 speeding tickets from mobile cameras in 2011-12, compared to 28,359 in 2010-11 and 28,374 in 2009-10 from mobile and fixed cameras.
Supt Sean Bell said: “Fixed site cameras were effectively switched off at the end of March 2011 following the withdrawal of funding for the Casualty Reduction Partnership.
“Northamptonshire Police now focuses on the pro-active use of mobile camera vans to enforce speeds throughout the county.
“Tackling speeding remains a priority for the force as part of the Fatal Four campaign which also looks at the use of mobile phones when driving, drink and drug driving and seatbelt use.”
The CRP, a team of county council and police officers working together, was disbanded and speed cameras switched off after the Government stopped its £2.1 million ring-fenced road safety grant.
But Cllr Gonzalez De Savage said the county council and police continue to work together ‘in partnership but not as a partnership’.
He said the two bodies inform each other of what action they are taking and make requests and recommendations for action when needed.
Road layouts, such as the introduction of a traffic island near Asda in Corby, can be changed on the advice of police, while representatives from both organisations go into schools to talk about road safety together.
The cabinet member said improving road surfaces was also reducing accidents as drivers no longer had to swerve to avoid potholes.
A county council spokesman said: “We are committed to reducing casualties on the county’s highways and continue to work with our partners to achieve this.
“It is too early to say whether switching off the fixed-site safety cameras has had an effect on the number of accidents in the county.
“Indeed, although the fixed-site cameras were switched off in April 2011, the camera housings have been retained and we believe this acts as a deterrent to speeding motorists.
“Following the Comprehensive Spending Review 2010 the Government withdrew all of its specific grant for road safety. This ring-fenced funding, which was granted to local authorities and for Northamptonshire was £2.18 million in 2010-11, provided the vast majority of the funding for the casualty reduction partnership.
“The withdrawal of this grant, along with the financial challenges facing the public sector, meant that it was not possible to continue with the existing situation, and so the casualty reduction partnership was disbanded.
“Both the police and the county council have agreed that a more targeted approach is needed to operate within the resources available. The county council has retained a small road safety team that concentrates on education, accident analysis and engineering interventions in line with its statutory role.
“The council will continue to monitor the number of accidents and will analyse data to look at the causes of collisions and any patterns which emerge.
“The police concentrate on enforcement, including the targeted use of mobile safety cameras in locations across the county. The police and the county council will continue to work collaboratively on road safety issues to maintain a joined-up approach. We have always taken road safety issues seriously and will continue to do so in the future.”
Matthew Kirk, 24, of Grafton Street, Kettering, whose 19-year-old cousin Ryan died in a crash on Warkton Road outside Grafton Underwood in January, said: “It’s horrible all round. I don’t know why it’s rising.
“From my point of view it’s not a good thing. I can’t stress enough how people need to be more aware.
“They can’t be complacent. There isn’t enough awareness about how dangerous the roads are.
“People need to keep their speeds down.”
Shirley Reeves, whose husband Peter died in a motorcycle accident near their home in Wellingborough in 2007, criticised plans to turn cameras off in 2009, calling them ‘ludicrous’. She feels vindicated by the figures.
She said: “Deaths and accidents are going to rise. Nothing has changed.
“What are these people doing? Why did they switch the cameras off? They must have known something was going to happen. It’s happened so many times.
“I’ve lived with this for five years. It’s just so wrong they have done nothing about it. They should get their backsides into gear and get things going again.”
Driving instructor Ian Humphrey, of Gipsy Lane, Kettering, who is county treasurer for the Royal Society of the Prevention of Accidents, blamed poor training and sloppy driving.
He said: “With the recession now people are teaching their own sons and daughters to drive.
“I’ve been teaching people 38 years. How can a dad do that same job.”
He said people still slow down when they see speed camera housing just in case they are on.
More police on the roads would help, he said, but the force lacks manpower.