Taxpayers Alliance And Speed Cameras
The lengths to which the New Conservatives will go in order to convince press and public of their agenda were highlighted in a “research note” published by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance in 2010. Purportedly a joint effort with a group called the “Drivers’ Alliance”, the subject was “Speeding Fines”.
Readers were informed that “Fines from speeding offences, particularly those caught by speed cameras, are a contentious issue for those who question the effectiveness of speed cameras in improving road safety. This report presents new analysis, which shows that since the implementation of speed cameras and the increasing focus on speed in road safety policy, road casualty rates have declined more slowly”.
The “research note” then expanded on that claim. “For the first time a robust statistical test shows that the change in the trend is statistically significant. The slower rate of decline in road casualties has meant that more road casualties have occurred than would be expected based on the road casualty rate prior to the introduction of speed cameras”.
The TPA was making the claim that speed cameras actually caused more casualty accidents.
This claim was supported by citations in the Daily Mail and Telegraph, where readers of those papers were treated to such Pavlovian staples as “The war on the motorist”.
Following this was the usual TPA fare: page after page of figures, much of it the result of Freedom of Information fishing expeditions, showing how many millions of pounds had been collected in speeding fines from speed camera deployment.
Then came a table showing the road casualty rate for the years 1978 to 2007. This was then shown in graphical form.
The graph was then amended to include a dotted red line titled “Introduction of speed cameras”, in 1991.
From there came a “predicted casualty rate” based on the decline in the casualty rate between 1978 and 1990, to show that, had that continued, there would be significantly less casualties had there been no speed cameras.
Journalists enquiring about the study were assured that the methodology was sound: there was a regression analysis including a Chow Test! Lots of calculations were provided, the numbers were backed by citing a book on econometrics, and many hacks were impressed enough to take this on trust.
However, as so often with the TPA, a deception had been practiced, one that not only misled the target audience, but one that demonstrated the fraudulent nature of this organisation.
The deception can be explained directly. It is true that speed cameras were first introduced to the UK (note my emphasis) in 1990. But most of them were not introduced until a decade later, after the White PaperTomorrow’s Roads, Safer For Everyone.
The TPA’s statistical analysis only stands up if all speed cameras were introduced in 1991. They were not: for instance, the Thames Valley force had just four deployed throughout their area, and three of those covered a particularly serious accident black spot on the A40.
Had that dotted red line been added when the largest expansion of speed cameras took place, in 2000, the statistical analysis would look rather different.
So why did the TPA make such a basic mistake? The reasoning is straightforward: this is a deliberate deception - it is not an accident. The most cursory of reading through would have unearthed the howler.
As The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance pointed out, there was a simple demonstration of speed camera effectiveness after Oxfordshire switched theirs off - and road deaths increased. The cameras were later switched back on.
This demonstrates the lengths to which lobby groups aligned to The New Conservatism are prepared to go in order to advance their ideology. Engineering a situation were more people lose their lives in road accidents is, to them, no big deal.
The lesson should be borne in mind whenever the TPA, or any of the rest of the New Conservative alphabet soup of lobby groups, present another item of their “research”.