Daily Mail cherry picks data to bash life-saving speed cameras

The Daily Mail's battle against life-saving technology and defence of unnaccountable law-breaking continued today with a blast at speed cameras that ignores the evidence.

The Daily Mail’s battle against life-saving technology and its defence of unnaccountable law-breaking continued today with a blast at speed cameras. The newspaper’s headline shrieks:

“Speed cameras ‘do not cut accidents’… they create them, study finds”

This is softened  with the strategic insertion of a ‘may’, in the introduction, which reads:

“Many speed cameras have not cut accident rates and may even have increased them, figures reveal for the first time today.”

It turns out that there is no ‘study’ as mentioned in the headline. Rather the government has requested that local authorities release data on accident and casualty rates on stretches of road before and after the introduction of speed cameras. The Department for Transport has collated links to the 75 local authorities that have.

The newspaper then picks three examples in the whole of the country where collisions and casualties increased after the introduction of a speed camera, to justify a headline that the technology harms safety. We should probably not expect evidence-based writing from a media outlet that bashes the disabled with pictures ‘posed by models’.

Unsuprisingly, scientific, statistically robust, credible studies show that speed cameras do work. The Cochrane Collaboration, an organisation that carries out across-the-board reviews of studies focusing on a certain topic and that is recognised by the World Health Organisation, in a 2010 review of 35 studies into speed cameras found:

“All studies reporting speed outcomes reported a reduction in average speeds post intervention with speed cameras… A reduction in the proportion of speeding vehicles (drivers) over the accepted posted speed limit, ranged from 8% to 70% with most countries reporting reductions in the 10 to 35% range.

“All 28 studies [that measured speed cameras effect on crashes] found a lower number of crashes in the speed camera areas after implementation of the program.

“In the vicinity of camera sites, the reductions ranged from 8% to 49% for all crashes, with reductions for most studies in the 14% to 25% range. For injury crashes the decrease ranged between 8% to 50% and for crashes resulting in fatalities or serious injuries the reductions were in the range of 11% to 44%…

“The consistency of reported positive reductions in speed and crash results across all studies show that speed cameras are a worthwhile intervention for reducing the number of road traffic injuries and deaths.”

What is odd about the Daily Mail story is that it was run before the Department for Transport had put out a press release or the local authority data. One possible explanation is the examples were deliberately briefed to newspapers to help stir up transport secretary Philip Hammond’s ‘war on the motorist’ rhetoric, so the government could score some political points – no matter what the evidence or effect on road safety was.

Obviously whether a Conservative-led administration would connive with the ill-informed biases of a right-wing press, whatever the effect on governance or fatalities, is a matter for readers to judge on the evidence they have at hand.

Meanwhile, a cast-iron tip for Daily Mail writers on how to avoid being caught by speed cameras: Obey the law.

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