Variable speed limits get bad press in new research | Smart Highways Magazine: Industry News

Variable speed limits get bad press in new research

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New research is claiming drivers have been “stung” with millions of pounds in fines after being caught out by sudden drops in speed on British motorways. says that since the first variable speed cameras were installed on motorways in 2013, motorists have been left with up to £526 million in fines, with 210,538 drivers have been caught exceeding the limit.

It suggests the issue is the way speeds can drop from 70mph to speeds of just 20mph and in a statement says the number of fines are likely to rise even further, with more variable speed zones planned across the UK as part of the smart motorway scheme.

Last month it was reported 13,000 motorists have been caught in just six months since variable speed cameras were installed on the M4 between J25 and J28 at Newport and now Freedom of Information data obtained by the website company suggests variable cameras on other stretches of motorway have also accounted for high volumes of speeding tickets. Cameras on the stretch of the M4 between J19 and J20 in both directions have collected40,320 penalty notices between 2015 and 2016, more than any other variable speed camera point in the UK. This is followed by cameras on the M5 between J16 (Almondsbury) and J17 (Easter Compton) with 27,398 penalty notices and cameras on the M1 J10 and J11 at Luton with 21,751 penalty notices.

It also says 210,538 UK drivers have been caught speeding by variable ‘smart’ motorway cameras since 2013(2), each facing fines of up to £2,500, while one in three motorists (32%) have had an accident or near miss caused by sudden drops in speed limits, or know someone who has.

Other findings are 78% of drivers caught speeding blame sudden changes in speed caused by variable smart motorway cameras and just one in 10 of motorists are aware variable speed cameras can drop to 20mph on UK motorways.

The phrasing of the report suggests that the industry has a way to go to get its message over that variable speed limits are a safety feature and also a way of keeping the traffic flowing better.

alan stringfellow

It is strange how reports on thsi subject can be phrased and how figures can be misread.
While it is possible to set variable speed limits to 20mph this is a very unusual event and only appears in emergency or closure situations, 30mph is the normal minimum for automatic setting of motorway speeds.
Motorists are warned well in advance of the speed limit in force on any motorway section with very large and bright speed limit signs, indeed you have a picture of these in your article. When the speed limit changes the new speed limit will not be enforced for a minimum period of one minute so there is no need for sudden braking as at 60mph a driver will be one mile away from the speed limit when it changes and anyone closer at that speed will simply not be considered for a penalty. It is very obvious therefore that drivers “caught out” are defiant in respect of the regulation of their speed even when the speed is managed for their benefit. There is no such thing as a “sudden drop in speed” on the motorways as anyone can appreciate from the explanation I have given, so why the phrase?
I am willing to speculate that the number of drivers prosecuted so far are a small fraction of the number of drivers that could have been prosecuted.
Perhaps drivers, researchers and those in the media should have a look at why drivers seem to think that defying the very obvious and well signed speed limit, placed for their benefit to ease congestion caused by the same drivers using unlawful speeds, is reasonable. Also why do petty and poorly researced articles like this one still punting the “otherwise law abiding driver” angle of the drivers who refuse to be regulated.
The message should be “drive as you are told, not as you think fit”, then the smart motorways will be populated with smart drivers who fear no risk to health or in being penalised by the authorities.
If this journal wants to live up to its name it needs to publish “smart articles”.

Perhaps the legislation has changed? But where did you get “the speed limit will not be enforced for a minimum period of one minute” after downgrade of speed limit?
The info. I have from the then Highways Agency (2012) says that you have only 10 seconds to bring your speed down to the limit shown on the roundel?
The figure of one minute you quote would cover several gantries, which in succession can have 60, 50, 60, 40mph meaningless speed limits.
Whoever is right, makes no difference, as how does the driver prove it?
The speed camera industry, equipment suppliers/enforcers are in it for the money, end of story!
Several years ago, there was talk of raising the speed limit to 80mph, now you will think yourself lucky if you are allowed to even do 70mph on a Smart motorway, as speeds go up and down at random!, just causing congestion where there was none before!

Mike Hindson-Evans

I always work on the basis that a limit lowered to 30mph on a live motorway is a real incident. But TWENTY miles an hour? Come on, that has to be a revenue-raising scam. Better to splash a rex X above the lane and ensure that it is a real closure. Discuss.