Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

UK Roadside Cameras - A Guide

Another post not at all related to canals or boats, but to transport in general. This time I hope to guide the reader through some of the technology now being used on the UK highway network which could catch out the unwary visitor to our country, the result being a heavy cost in fines to set aside the cost of your holiday here...

Some would say that Britain is fast approaching a surveillance state. Others would say it is already there. Whatever your views, the following is happening right now, and you need to know what it looks like, what it does, and the implications for you - the driver, and how you use our road network safely. The following information will describe how surveillance cameras are currently used in the UK, with images, so that they can be identified when driving around the country.

These are the basic type of roadside speed camera which were first introduced in the 1980's. The first one, comes in various configurations, depending on make, and could take  images of approaching traffic, or passing traffic, after being triggered by excessive speed of a vehicle, usually by radar, although some types use sensors mounted in the road surface. Two images are recorded, at a timed interval, and white graduated road markings are then used to prove the vehicle speed during processing. The first one is of a type that uses film as its recording medium, and as such has a maintenance need, such as reloading the camera. This, consequently means it has running costs, so not all of
this type of camera are in use all of the time. It may flash, but there may be no film in it. You only find out when the notice of intended prosecution drops through the letter box. After a public outcry that many cameras were being hidden from view, or camouflaged, the government introduced a national initiative to standardise their use, which included making them all high visibility yellow. Each local authority that signed up to the scheme was then given financial incentives to help make their road safety initiatives self-funding. Watch out for the areas that didn't sign up - their cameras remain camouflaged, usually green, or grey, in colour.
The second image is of a digital camera, which transfers its data electronically with minimal running costs. Passing one of these at excessive speed will generally always result in prosecution.

The next image is of a mobile speed camera. These often secrete themselves at the roadside, or on bridges over the road they are temporarily monitoring. They are hard to detect, but their use, as with all road safety cameras, is governed by a code of practice which states that sufficient warning signs, such as that in the next images must be placed in the areas of intended operation. There have been successful appeals against prosecutions where operators had not used these warning signs.

When these signs are seen at the roadside, there may be either permanent or temporary safety cameras in use. Temporary sites, such as the van above, will often rely on the ones painted on the side of the van as their warning.

Next we have what are known as "SPECS". These are commonly found on motorways, often monitoring the speed of traffic through roadworks that have a temporary mandatory speed limit in place. Always painted yellow, often mounted on gantries in multiples to monitor several lanes, they work in pairs. They use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to register all passing traffic. If a registration plate is calculated to have arrived too soon at its counterpart, which may or may not be the next camera gantry along the road, digital information is collected and forwarded to process for a prosecution. It is futile to slow down on the approach to these cameras as they monitor the average speed of all the vehicles using the road they are placed on. There are plans to possibly introduce them for use in towns, where they would be placed on all entry and exit arterial routes to a town that had a blanket speed limit enforcement, meaning that if a vehicle crossed town too quickly for the speed limit in place, an automated prosecution would follow. Scary stuff!

Now we move on to even more scary stuff! The next image shows a gantry configuration which has started to pop up on our motorway network. They are currently in use in the Midlands, M6 and the South East, M25, and I suspect will be in more common use sometime soon. The reason for them is given as a need to control traffic flow at busy, congested times. They use a combination of ANPR technology, which is used to determine the volume of traffic passing them. This then controls the mandatory illuminated speed limit sign on the gantry. (Previous to this, the illuminated speed signs that appeared on motorway gantries were only advisory. These are different in that they emulate the mandatory speed limit sign with the white figures and red circular border). The indicated speed limit changes constantly, depending on traffic flow. The gantries are placed every couple of hundred yards or so, and each speed limit has the potential to be different to the next. Placed behind each speed limit sign, is a radar operated digital speed camera, that catches you if you pass at a speed that is over the indicated speed limit. Areas where this system is in operation, should also have the above warning signs on the gantries. Vehicle speed is usually calculated in the time honoured fashion of two timed images over the white graduated road markings under each gantry lane.
Finally we move on to the also rans. This image from the St. Margaret's Community Website shows a Richmond Council Smart car fitted with a telescopic traffic camera. These are now in common use by most local authorities, and can often be found prowling around junctions controlled by automatic traffic lights, or box junctions. They photograph offenders, and then prosecute. They can also be used to monitor areas where there is restricted parking. If they are being used, to comply with the law, the above warning signs should be in place.

The next images are of  ANPR cameras that can be seen mounted on motorway gantries and masts at the side of urban roads. These are placed to monitor ALL traffic entering and leaving specified areas, and are used to detect and prevent crime.
They are often placed at county boundaries on motorways so that criminal movement can be monitored, known and tagged vehicles pop an alarm at the monitoring centre as they pass. The historic information that has been collected from these sites can also be searched retrospectively during police investigations. For example, a known registration can be put in, and footage of the vehicle's movements can be found. Many police traffic patrol cars are now fitted with this technology, and are marked

in their livery with the words "ANPR Equipped Vehicle". These are used both in general patrol duties, but also in static temporary roadside initiatives to identify and subsequently prosecute traffic offenders who may drive without insurance, MOT, or road tax. All these requirements are now electronically recorded so that ANPR detection technology can be used. Offender's vehicles are often scrapped as a result of these initiatives.

This image shows one of the latest road toll cameras. In common use on London's streets to register all passing traffic, toll cameras regulate the London Congestion Charging initiative. This one will have the added combined ability to also monitor vehicle speed using GPS technology. The government recently wanted to introduce similar initiatives throughout the country, starting with Manchester. The incentive carrot was held in the form of increased spending on the county's road networks if the scheme was accepted. A referendum was held, and the public overwhelmingly rejected the idea - for the moment.

Many road junctions that are controlled by automatic traffic lights now have digital cameras fitted to detect red light jumpers. These are operated by two individual road sensors at the stop line, and are energised by the red light itself. A combined unit that also detects excessive speed has now started to be deployed, so the unsuspecting motorist will not only be prosecuted for passing the red STOP light, but also for speeding through it! That will be 6 points and £120 please, thank you very much! These units look exactly the same as the digital roadside cameras above, but are mounted at the junction on very tall grey masts. Box junctions and bus lanes can be monitored in the same way. Look out particularly for the bus lanes, it is usually the ones that allow intermittent use, the times being regulated by blue information signs, that are subject to the camera cover.

Finally, there are cameras mounted over each lane on motorway bridges and on roadside masts on A grade roads. These are normally painted blue, and are simply traffic volume monitors for use with the "Traffic Master" system, and others, that are linked to satellite navigation systems and the like. They are simply there to provide advance information for the benefit of road users, and nothing more sinister.

I hope you have found this article of use, and remember - DRIVE SAFELY!


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