Blog : I’ve seen the future… and it can go and do one!

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams


Average speed cameras on the A9 (Picture: Keith WR Jones)

Yesterday, Keith WR Jones and I spent an enjoyable day driving Vauxhall’s new Insignia Grand Sport from Luton to Northern Scotland. Between us, we covered more than 1100 miles, averaged more than 50mpg and consumed rather too much junk food along the way. Being a Saturday, it was agreeably quiet on the roads, which was something of a mercy, given how many miles we needed to cover.

Aside from the usual bemoaning of British driving standards, and questioning – again – why we all seem to drive so slowly when cars have never been safer or more capable, I found myself almost weeping with frustration driving up the A9. I must admit that I’ve not driven the A9 south of Inverness since 1990, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much it had changed in the interim – but I was.

Major road changes…

I’m not referring to the shape and flavour of the road here. It still sweeps majestically through Scotland’s mountainous centre, from Dunblane up to Thurso, and delivers some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. It’s wide, well-surfaced, utterly well-maintained and an example of how all roads should be. No, the problem is that this magnificent road comes with a sting in its tail – enjoy it too much, and they will get you.

They being the traffic police. Or they being the courts. You see, it’s absolutely littered with average speed cameras and, as a consequence, if you even think about going over the speed limit and enjoying the amazing piece of blacktop, the comedown will be accompanied by a brown envelope stuffed with a Notice of Intended Prosecution.

Now I understand that safety is paramount, and that the inappropriate use of speed can permanently destroy lives, but is this pervasive speed enforcement really the answer? As Keith and I trundled up this road on barely tickover, daring to accelerate – a bit – come the spitefully-short dual-carriageway sections, I couldn’t help but question the wisdom and safety of such low speed limits on such a well-sighted road. Aren’t they so easy that you could be lulled into sleep by them?

There is going to be more…

Given the sheer amount of roadworks we encountered along the way, it’s easy to conclude that these average speed cameras will be coming to all roads and motorways near you. The M1, M6 and M42 are already pretty stacked with managed motorway sections and average speed cameras, but it’s the promise of so much more than worries me. Are we going to end up with our entire motorway and trunk road network covered by these?

And if so, does that mean we’re all just going to end up even more obsessed by watching our speedometers – while driving slowly and never daring to overtake 50mph HGVs?

I think so. I think that drive up (and back down) the A9 was a vision of my driving future. And I’m appalled by the notion. Twenty years ago, the average British motorway flowed along, competitively, with 85mph being pretty much the norm. People jousted, they concentrated, they just got on with it. Now, if you’re doing 85mph, you’re going conspicuously faster than most other people and, on the whole, you’ll be frustrated/angered/enraged (delete as appropriate) by the experience. Just why are we slowing down?

I’m worried…

If we do end up with a blanket average speed camera-enforced road network, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Part of the driving experience is to make judgements and act upon them. You read the road, interpret what’s happening, and drive accordingly. Take any element of personal judgement away, and you’re left with a mind-numbing act of processing – from A-to-B without making any decisions.

Perhaps in this dystopian nightmare scenario, we’ll just hand over to autonomous cars and be done with it. Hell, we’re practically there on many upmarket cars, which come equipped with lane-keeping assist, active cruise control and automatic braking. Ironically, I use and enjoy many of these features regularly, and they are fast becoming so good that you can cover hundreds of miles with minimal driver input. Here’s the point, though: they enhance my ability to drive long distances. I am still in charge and not beholden to the dead hand of a bunch of stupid average speed cameras.

Finally, if we must have average speed cameras instead of actual traffic police, then why not sling them in front of schools or in villages bisected by trunk roads – or just in places where people and cars can all too easily meet? Using them in roadworks is good. So, why not extend that thinking and remove them when they’ve finished the roadworks and made things safer?

On a beautiful road like the A9, this ongoing emasculation by camera is – in my opinion – an act of vandalism. If you really want to make roads safer, why not engineer cars so that smartphones won’t work in them at all? Oh, and take out the cupholders.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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27 Comments

  1. Is it safety or taxation?

    Anyway, could you lobby for temporary plates issued at British customs (with obligatory £10 handling fee) for foreign vehicles? That way I won’t have a Turkish HGV inches from my bumper when I’m stuck in a 50mph average speed camera’d zone because the trucker would get a speeding fine upon handing his temporary plates back (with another obligatory £10 handling fee). Hey we could even have subscription plates for continental transport companies!

  2. It did not used to be like that.

    Many moons ago, I came to the conclusion that those we entrust this Nation’s and our own well being, simply cannot be trusted to get it right.

    I speak as one who frequently exceeded 100mph and sustained that on both A Roads and Motorways. All perfectly legally. Indeed, Police Patrol vehicles which were much more frequently seen back then, unlike recent years, would move over and wave you by. I kid you not.

    Then a temporary six month experimental overall 70 mph maximum National Speed Limit was introduced. That was over half a century ago now …. how temporary is that… :rolleyes:

    Whatever next? Taking EU Vehicle Petrol Diesel Emissions Guidelines as Gospel without question anxious to be seen to be doing the right “green thing”. That will never happen of course.. :rolleyes:

    Things can be improve greatly by simple effective measures as usually happened in the past.

    If they really wanted to improve safety on our roads, re-introduce one of the most effective bygone safety instructions to grace UK roads. This one:~

    HALT AT MAJOR ROAD AHEAD

  3. Much as they are an annoyance, most of us locals who live north of Perth now see the average speed cameras on the A9 as a necessary evil. The road has an absolutely appalling safety record due to the numerous and dangerous right hand turns, people speeding on the dual carriageway sections and then not bleeding the speed off when it reverts back to single (or some people being disoriented at night and ending up on the wrong side of the road), not to mention desperate drivers taking silly chances because they’ve been stuck behind a slow moving artic for 20 miles. Something had to give. Most of us now grit our teeth and put up with it in the knowledge that it will be completely dualled by the early 2020s (40 years overdue!), at which point the average speed system (we are told by the Scot Gov) will be dismantled.

    The one thing that DOES irk a lot of people up here is why the Dunblane to Perth stretch has the cameras as well, when it is completely dualled for its entire length and has several grade separated junctions, and the most dangerous of the right hand turns at Blackford and Auchterarder were already protected by GATSOs.

  4. Well having quite a few of these in South Essex I don’t think they seem to actually make much difference. On the A127 where they supposed to keep the speed at 50, I normally get passed by numerous idiots who slam their ankers on when they get to a camera or just don’t bother slowing down at all.

    The problem with average speed cameras is that they are not safe unless you have cruise control on your car. People have to keep an eye on their speedometer and therefore they are not keeping their eyes on the road, therefore making the road more dangerous. Also unless they have a camera on a entrance or slip road, people will speed until they get to the camera – bad design – at least on the A13 in Dagenham they have them on the slips too.

    Problem is speed does not kill – bad driving does. 85 on a dry empty motorway, but doing that on a wet and busy road is what happens as people are inherently stupid so cameras will just become the norm until the public become more responsible.

  5. Bought back memories from 2000 on the Club Triumph 2,000 mile Round Britain Run. On to the A9 just after dawn on a beautiful sunny day putting my foot down sliding the back end out on my Triumph Tr7 watching the amazing scenery flash by.

    The road was empty that day but as roads get more crowded and some people like tail-gating then speed and stopping can equal crashes.

  6. Out of interest, how fast were you going Keith, and what was the speed limit on that particular stretch of road?

    The Insignia looks good in red in that Parkers article, BTW.

  7. Keith,

    I loved that last sentence…

    In Netherlands the country has worked hard to improve the road network. It was facing collabs of traffic in the rush hours. And one of the more effective measures was to INCREASE the speed limit on certain parts of the network, when the road had a certain standard. This is now spreading all over the Netherlands – making traveling much better. That’s not to say that it is not easy to get an expensive fine if overdone.

    In the UK I find there is way too much camera controls out, and not much of actual police forces to see. This smacks less of safety improvement, but more of raising income…

    BTW, the A9 is one of the most beautiful roads I have ever driven. In 2012 these cameras have not been there – and yes a fully seated ADO16 could easily trap them.

    • The Dutch are a nation of cyclists, after the War as car ownership/usage increased , child and pedestrian deaths rose to unacceptable levels “Kinder Murder”, the fuel crisis of the 1970s hit Holland very hard, and triggered a pro-cycling revolution which lead to segregation of cars and cycles by roads and curtailment of car usage in towns and cities.

  8. I am by no means a fan of speed cameras, however the A9 can be a truly horrible road, in fact I much prefer the longer way to inverness (from Glasgow) going up the A82 and side of loch ness, id also reckon its a prettier drive
    the appalling safety record of the A9 means something needs to be done until it is fully Dualled, I usually come back down it in holiday season and to see frustrated overtaking on the dual carriageway at over 100 miles an hour in the wet, nose to tail inner lane is horrifying, and not something I wish to experience
    I just hope the average cameras are binned once the road is full dual carriageway

  9. The A9 did trial higher speed limits for lorries, moving them up to 50mph from 40mph which did at least reduce the need to try to overtake.

    The problem with THAT road is that when there is an accident (and there are often accidents) then the detours can be epic (see http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/drivers-forced-take-152-mile-detour-3006534).

    Personally I wouldn’t buy a car without a speed limiter, so when in an average speed check zone you can just set the maximum speed and drive normally below that. Even so.. I still think that speed cameras should be used where there is a proven necessity only.

    • I’m sorry I would and do buy a car without a speed limiter. We shouldn’t be relying on devices like that for out safety.

      I’m a firm believer that safety devices have promoted a feeling of invincibility amongst some drivers. Every day I am now seeing drivers dodge in and out of lanes in smallish gaps just to sneak ahead a few car lengths.

      People need to remember it is the driver’s responsibility to drive safely. To rely on ABS for them not to lock brakes, to rely on airbags for them not to die, to rely on a speed limiter to stop them exceeding a speed is madness.

      The late, great LJK Setright had it right that the biggest safety device is a bloody great spike sticking out from the steering wheel of each and every vehicle.

      As someone else said, speed doesn’t kill, bad driving does.

      • Chris wrote :~

        “I’m a firm believer that safety devices have promoted a feeling of invincibility amongst some drivers.”

        and ..

        “People need to remember it is the driver’s responsibility to drive safely. To rely on ABS for them not to lock brakes, to rely on airbags for them not to die, to rely on a speed limiter to stop them exceeding a speed is madness. ”

        Good grief! I’m not alone. Well said Chris.

        Mind you, my new car has more EU STARS and gizmos than your’n so no need for me to drive as safely as lesser folks like you have to. My gizmos will look after me.

        KERRRRUNCH.

        I remember reading the scribe LJK.

        My slant on things. The best safety device in any vehicle is the quality of the nut holding the steering wheel. T’was always thus.

        • I do find it rather ironic that it is certain German prestige cars that tend to be loaded with all this safety and driver assist kit, yet it is always these vehicles you see getting driven aggressively. Having all this junk installed probably contributes to the devil-may-care attitude of many BMW/Audi/Mercedes drivers as Chris says above……yet none of it changes the inconvenient truth of the laws of physics which seems to elude a lot of these folk.

      • Every car has a speed limiter, the speed limiter is at maximum engine rpm in top gear, and to those proponents of the argument ” speed will get you out of trouble” surely the opposite is true.

  10. I’ve been up and down the A9 lots of times and know it has a terrible reputation for accidents. Kevin Steele has summed the problem up in a nutshell and every time I go along that route I can’t help feeling that it is another ploy to skim money from the poor motorist.

    Why force HGV lorries to travel at 50mph knowing full well that if a car attempts to pass it will break the speed limit.

    Why put the speed cameras on the Perth to Dunblane stretch which is entirely dual carriageway.

    There are known accident blackspots, why not put cameras there or on sections which go from dual to single.

    There are so many alternatives to average speed cameras that the whole road stinks of a money making scheme for the local authority or SNP Government.

    • They make money and are far cheaper than paying for a traffic car and the policeman’s salary. At least a policeman had some kind of judgement about how fast you were going and wouldn’t book you if the road was safe, the camera will just flash whoever is going more than 10 per cent above the speed limit( or whatever these scameras are set at). Also some drunken neds in a stolen car couldn’t really care less if they’re flashed for doing over 100 mph, as they’d probably either crash or abandon the car, where at least the traffic police could catch them before something tragic would happen.

      • ^^^ Wot he said. Not just revenue generators … there’s more benefits like these:~

        What really annoys me, and I mean really, is that so called “Speed Cameras” rarely penalise bad driving or, better still remove those bad drivers from our roads as Traffic Patrol Police once did. Police Patrols are a rare sight on UK roads now. Far too busy ticking boxes and other beneficial pursuits.

      • I’d argue though that the A9 is a special case because the notorious Perth-Inverness stretch is 110 miles long, and there are accident blackspots pretty much everywhere along it. It is neither practical or economically viable to have Plod present everywhere at once over such a distance, so slowing everyone down with an automated system would seem like a good compromise. So as I said in my earlier post, I am generally in support of it, but again, why the dualled section between Dunblane and Perth has to have it seems ludicrous to say the least.

        But you’re always going to have bad drivers with an “it won’t happen to me” attitude, and neither the threat of more manual policing or speed cameras is going to deter them. They will carry on with their behaviour until their luck runs out.

  11. The people who have ruined things for you are bad drivers. Take the driver of a 3 series in my local DIY store carpark on a busy Saturday. Chock full of cars and pedestrians; so of course they floor it, unbelievably dangerous.

    Extreme example, but there is a small minority of drivers who are extremely dangerous, who have enforced these horror restrictions on the rest of us.

    For the record I hate enforcement cameras, there is nothing more tiring or stressful than endless miles on an average speed camera road. The problem is people have shown they can’t be trusted.

    Don’t blame the authorities, blame the tail gating s**t in an Audi who drives inches away from other cars, willing to cause an accident to make ‘progress’.

  12. As you say, Keith, most busy stretches of our motorways are already covered by gantries festooned with cameras, and average speed sections are becoming an increasingly common sight on major trunk roads. But has all this technology been put in place just to control speed and improve safety? Maybe, but … if at some point in the future a government has enough courage to implement road pricing, those same cameras could be used to record when and how far our vehicles have travelled on those roads. The infrastructure is already in place, all it will require is a new piece of software.

  13. What is the “leeway” these days, in terms of how much you can exceed the average speed?

    One of the frustrating things these days, is when you catch someone doing say 48mph on a 50 road, but can’t accelerate naturally past them, and instead have to crawl past doing say 52…

    I’ve often thought that what we need are variable speed limits. Thus a road like the A2 Rochester Way in SE London is busy and potentially dangerous during daytime and needs its 50 mph limit and average speed cameras then, but doesn’t when the road is empty at night when the 70 limit which it used to have would be perfectly safe.

    • Generally, “leeway” suggested by ACPO is 10% +2mph. That’s advisory, though, no compulsory.

      Having driven the A9 a fair few times, I’d say the average cameras are sadly, a required evil. Sad really, and yes, the accident rate is down to poor driving, not just speed.

  14. I drive the A9 on average two to three times a week. Much as I despise the mind numbing monotony of the average speed cameras, I would say it has reduced the prevalence of speeding on the road. What it has not done, however, and perhaps more importantly, is improve the standard of driving in a meaningful way. I’ve noticed a vast increase in tail gating, aggressive driving, reckless speeding on the dual carriageway sections, and great snakes of traffic behind HGVs. The drivers are generally afraid now of overtaking on single carriageway sections in case they are caught speeding, and therefore don’t bother.

    It’s very difficult to maintain concentration over such a long distance with the cruise control set to 60 for miles and miles. I’ve found myself taking more rest breaks than prior to the speed cameras – perhaps that’s a good thing? The road itself won’t be dualled completely until the late 2020s or even early 2030s, but I wouldn’t be slightly surprised to see a successor system installed on the full dual carriageway.

  15. In my home USA state of New Jersey a number of years ago our state legislature banned by near unanimous votes the use of unmanned speed cameras. In part it was due to our state basic laws that means a human police officer can only issue a ticket to an actual driver. In other states they were pulled as just were a scheme by the corporations that ran the cameras and made a big cut of money from the fines and not so much for local governments. They also don’t catch drunk drivers or those generally driving dangerously.
    I have been on some of those roads in the UK long before speed cameras were in use and while I understand the need for them considering the hazards in some locations like where frequent cross-lane movements, schools, congested areas. Problem is that many drivers are competent at above speed limit speeds and shouldn’t be in a situation of getting lots of tickets, some moderation must be put in.

  16. Lets face it, these cameras are there to make money, no ifs or buts. If no money accrued from them they would never have been installed. The money I refer to is, of course, the fees for “Safety Awareness Courses” that ensure lots of retired policemen in financial distress can now get contracts “teaching” at these courses. The whole thing is one big scam. And as Scotland is now a one-party state it ain’t going to change anytime soon.

    • No they are there, because a large percentage of the British public are spoilt a***holes. If people had been sensible about their speed, everyone could enjoy this road.

      Alas some British ‘adults’ take the p**s, treat roads like this like a race track and ruin it for everyone. The cameras are there because of the number accidents. They are their, because of idiots who try to do the tonne in busy traffic and tailgate motorists who aren’t making ‘progress’.

      I have no problem with people going a bit over the limit when the traffic and road conditions make it safe. Alas a percentage of British adults either lack the intelligence or the basic consideration for others to be trusted to do this. Hence the cameras.

    • Same as the even bigger scam of car park cameras run by companies like Parking Eye, who control most of the supermarket car parks where I live. Should you do a bit of shopping and forget something, there is no way you could get back into the car park within a time restriction of 4 hours without ending up with an £ 85 fine, or drop someone off and return for them an hour later. Also these scumbags now seem to have the power to take you to court, so ignoring their threatening letters as in the past will probably mean an appearance at a county court after six months and a fine and costs of £ 300.
      It’s the same with local hospital car parks, which employ parking attendants with the charm of Pol Pot. One minute late and you get a hefty fine, which if not paid within a certain time, will again incur a visit to the county court, or the bailiffs coming round. I wasn’t surprised when someone flattened one of these bullies in Carlisle a few months ago.

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