Speeding fines hit an all-time high across England and Wales in 2020, reaching 2.3 million. Research shows that 253,000 of these speeding fines were the result of increased numbers of ‘stealth cameras’ installed on smart motorways.

Figures sourced by the Daily Mail show that ‘253,000 Notices of Intended Prosecution (NPIs) were issued in the 12 months up to Autumn 2020 by 17 of the 20 police forces whose areas cover smart motorways in England and Wales.’

For the first time, these figures have highlighted the significant number of penalties (almost 10% of all speeding fines) are issued on motorways as a result of ‘stealth cameras’.

Deemed vital to the smooth-running of smart motorways, the amount of ‘stealth cameras’ in use has dramatically increased over the last few years, with the number of speed cameras in general having trebled over the last decade. This means that more and more drivers are regularly being caught out.

The RAC suggests that one reason as to why this might be the case is because ‘drivers do not realise cameras on smart motorways, that enforce variable speed limits, can still catch you travelling over the national speed limit when a variable limit isn’t in place.’

However, Highways England has frequently warned that ‘if no special speed limit is in place then the national speed limit applies.’ Speed cameras are in operation on smart motorways. If you don’t keep to the speed limit, you may receive a fine.’

With smart motorways already accounting for 416 miles of road in England and Wales, and with the expectation that this will double in length by 2025, many additional cameras are set to be installed.

Despite these warnings, smart motorways and ‘stealth cameras continue to be a cause of controversy, with these new speeding fine figures serving only to add fuel to the fire.

[Image source: Shutterstock, Jan 2021]


The problem with smart motorways

Via various traffic management methods, smart motorways are designed to improve traffic flow, increase capacity and reduce congestion in busy areas. However, a number of fatal accidents that saw cars break down in live lanes without the protection of a hard-shoulder brought their efficiency and safety into question. Now, campaigners claim that they are also responsible for the growing numbers of unfair speeding fines.

Motoring organisations claim that the rise in speeding fines is because the ‘stealth cameras’ are difficult to spot. They are small, mounted on the side of gantries at the edge of the motorway and, perhaps most concerningly, are often hidden by vegetation or signs. Despite pleas from Highways England for drivers to report obscured cameras, campaigners still claim that this issue is responsible for unfair speed fining.

‘Stealth cameras’, dubbed as such for their original grey colour, are now in operation on the M1, M25, M3, M4, M5, M6, M20, M42 and M62. There are 168 of these cameras in total.

In recent days, motoring groups have raised concerns about how these cameras are being used. Edmund King, AA president, said: ‘The majority of drivers support the use of cameras if used for safety reasons, but there are inconsistencies in their use which can catch drivers out.’

Mr King also suggested that signage could be adding to the issue, despite motorway display signs warning motorists of in-use cameras. He said: ‘signs should be displayed on all gantries that are in place as the objective should be to slow people down, not catch them out.’

Motoring groups are also concerned about when the cameras are being used, with some police forces using them at all times including when the 70mph limit applies, while others only switch them on when reduced speed limits are in place. These groups claim that this lack of clarity is the cause of many an unfair speeding fine.

Highways England, however, have defended the use of ‘stealth cameras’ with Jeremy Phillips, head of road safety at Highways England, reassuring motorists that ‘we’re not using cameras to catch drivers out or make more money out of fines. They’re there to encourage drivers to stick to speed limits, for the safety of everyone using the road, and to help traffic flow freely.’

He also reinforced the fact that the cameras are ‘bright yellow and clearly-signed; alerting drivers to the presence of cameras’ which ‘helps to encourage compliance and improves safety.’

Have you been caught out by motorway ‘stealth cameras’? Do they make our roads safer, or are they the cause of the increase in unfair speeding fines?

Let us know in the comments.

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