“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you” – one of the lesser-known quotes from the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which ‘Big Brother’ is always watching. Despite being seventy years old this year, the whole “Big Brother is watching you” has never been apter, with the number of speed cameras dotted around.

A raft of new speed cameras introduced in the south-west has the ability to monitor your speed, check your seatbelt, detect mobile phone usage or see whether you’re eating, smoking or drinking, and it could lead to prosecution. These new cameras have been nicknamed ‘The Yellow Vultures’.

While we’re used to seeing average speed check cameras throughout various locations, these new cameras are the next generation, they use infrared tech and high-definition, which means that day or night, they have the ability to catch you unawares.

The legality

While smoking, eating or drinking while driving isn’t actually illegal (currently), there is an argument for distracted driving; a study by Leeds University found that motorists consuming food while driving were on average, 44% slower than usual. But if you were found to be speeding while distracted, you could face a charge of careless driving, along with the speeding conviction.

One further point is that these new breed of cameras are much more accurate, which in theory, means that when we reported back in August that Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, Britain’s Road Policing Chief wanted to fine motorists for breaching the speed limit by just 1mph, he may just get his way.

Currently, the National Police Chiefs Council guidelines recommend a 10+2 limit, that is 10% over, plus 2mph – 35mph in a thirty limit, 57mph in a fifty and so on, but that really is only a courtesy, set in the days where speedo accuracy wasn’t top of the list for the manufacturer; most speedometers were set from the factory to under-read by around 5% purely for this reason.

It’s also worth pointing out that the old ‘lane change’ trick won’t work either – gone are the days that you could confuse an average speed check camera by swapping lanes, or by riding a motorcycle with only a rear-facing number plate. The yellow vultures are capable of spotting every indiscretion, committed by any vehicle.

Spotting the cameras

At the moment, the new breed of super-camera only has limited geography – based in the south-west on the Gdynia Way heading into Plymouth and the A38 at Haldon Hill, but if proven successful you can almost guarantee that they’ll be rolled out nationwide.

The camera unit itself is similar enough to existing average speed cameras, but the tell-tale is that they’ll be preceded by a bank of LED equipment and sensors 20 metres before the first camera, even so, you’ll need sharp eyesight to know when you’re entering a zone.

The reality is that the cameras are there for speeding, and while they’re technically capable of spotting things like missing seatbelts, eating and smoking, it’s unlikely to lead to prosecution unless you commit an act of careless driving due to it. However, they’re also capable of spotting mobile phone usage, and that can only be a good thing.

What seems to be an unknown is whether the cameras are constantly scanning for illegal or dangerous driving, or whether they only activate due to speeding.

Avoidance

From what we understand, it seems a genuine effort to place the emphasis on safety first rather than raise revenue, but this could just be the tip of the iceberg, the trial run before understanding just what the real-world capabilities are.

As we reported last week, slow doesn’t necessarily mean safe, but it seems that on the whole, anti-speeding measures are generally accepted, where appropriate. As to whether a fine for eating a sandwich on the go, or staying caffeinated would be quite so well received remains to be seen.

It would seem that since ‘speed’ cameras were overtaken by ‘safety’ cameras (meaning fewer locations), the battle has been on to justify further camera usage, perhaps in a bid to minimise loss of revenue, or it could just be that the UK is in need of safety education when it comes to driving?

Driving within the speed limit is clearly the best way to avoid prosecution, and perhaps you’ll be doing your digestive system good by not having a three-course meal ‘on the go’, but then perhaps you should be allowed to choose for yourself.

One of our partners, Drivesmart, has a speed camera detector which they’ve given PetrolPrices members an exclusive 28% off, bringing the price down to £129.99. The Drivesmart Alpha has been developed by experts in the speed camera detection business, having brought out their first detector over 10 years ago when they were the first pioneers to offer free database updates. You can buy that here.

What do you think of the new breed of safety camera? Is it too much? Let us know in the comments.

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