There was quite an entertaining debate on this vanity site, I mean blog, regarding Cllr Chris Cooke's slight misunderstanding of a Daily Mail story about hedgehogs. He's another one of those people who don't so much speed-read as sprint past Usain Bolt taking in the headline only before posting their carefully researched words of wisdom.
Nothing too serious, of course, until you realise that this person is an elected local politician. He is supposed to make decisions and read long, detailed documents. No wonder he's friends to the clever people of the BNP as evidenced by the Einstein-like Richard Barnbrook.
The Daily Mail has a strange obsession with the rights of car owners and in particular, the demon speed cameras. Barely a week goes by without the paper allowing its readers the chance to vent their spleen if not their exhaust fumes on stories such as,
"New motorway speed camera blitz means thousands more will face fines" ,
"Indestructible, the speed camera that will defy bombs and bulldozers",
"Speed camera earns £5000 an hour"
The Mail has a symbiotic relationship with many of its readers; they feed off the constant harping on about stealth taxes whilst the paper gets kudos for fighting for the poor motorist. Even behaviour that would normally set Mail-ites gnashing collective teeth such as law-breaking, vandalism and non-payment of taxes is seemingly condoned.
Whilst a lot of us were gazing in awe at the Spider Spectacle of La Princesse, Liverpool was hosting the BA Festival of Science. One of the debates to come out of that was one led by Dr Linda Mountain of Liverpool University on empirical analysis of road safety statistics relating to speed cameras. Unfortunately, I was not present so am not sure how the actual talk went. However, using the Mail as a source (Yeh, I know!) we do see that,
'If accidents fall dramatically after the cameras are in place, it could be that the cameras have reduced accidents, but some of the fall may simply show that a run of bad luck has come to an end,' Dr Mountain told the British Association science festival in Liverpool.
Anyone who has studied Statistics to A Level will understand the concept of the regression to the mean. I was crap at science as my record in the local Quiz League shows, so I do not wish to go into greater detail for fear of making a prat of myself. However, suffice to say, Dr Mountain is NOT suggesting that the cameras are a waste of time or that they do NOT save lives. It seems to me that it is difficult top be as accurate as say with seat belt safety as we are dealing with actual accidents rather than potential ones.
It is hard to quantify. Perhaps a cheaper solution would be to attach flowers to railings as this tends to have the effect of making drivers slow down. In Greece, I noticed little candles in miniature shrines on winding coastal roads. Similarly it is possible to argue that other factors such as bad driving and even slow speeds can be more of a danger to pedestrians and other road users, but that's a debate for another day.
The important bit comes at the end of David Derbyshire's piece:
'The big difference is that when you allow for the regression to mean effect, you find a 19 per cent reduction in accidents and serious accidents,' she said.
'I believe that cameras do reduce accidents, but not quite as much as is claimed.'
Officially, cameras are acknowledged as saving around 100 lives a year. But Dr Mountain believes the true figure is 'around 50'.
The article brings the usual petrolheads out of their pits:
The damn things probably cause more accidents than they prevent, as drivers brake suddenly on seeing one, and get shunted up the rear.
- David Bourke, Rochester, Kent., 9/9/2008 16:48
- They're talking about 50 lives in the whole of the country, a population of roughly 65 million. Chances are if they didn't die on the roads, they'd have died of MRSA in a filthy hospital, or been stabbed by a drunken yob.
If the money taxed from drivers by speed cameras was used to clean up hospitals or put more police on the streets, you may have had an argument...
- Sick of Lie-bour, Reading, 9/9/2008 17:03
Of course they havent.. these machines are cash cows nothing less.
- Jacqui Weems, Southampton, 9/9/2008 18:43
- - Charlie, Nottingham, 9/9/2008 18:58
BUT the Eric The Fish Award For Being Certain Without Evidence goes to our friend Cllr Chris for this gem:
Actually the "experts" are NOT saying Speed Cameras have saved only half the lives. In fact they are not saying Speed Cameras have saved any lives at all. They were just expressing a BELIEF that speed cameras may have saved some lives - but far fewer than claimed by Government. For myself I am quite certain that the sum total of speed camera madness over the years has actually cost more lives. A recent report in one country without speed cameras claimed a 40% reduction in accidents - so what was that attributable to? Could it be that speed cameras can actually cause accidents and negate the positive effects of better car and road engineering over the years? Not to mention not having proper policing of our roads with people with an eyes and a brain to detect the real dangerous drivers on the roads. The whole speed camera thing was a scam - they should be scrapped.
- Cllr Chris Cooke, Tamworth, UK., 9/9/2008 19:41
Still, he shows he's read some of the article this time - perhaps checking that no New Zealand hedgehogs were harmed during the study -and makes a semantic point about what the study's findings are. However, he makes the 'weaker candidate' error of suggesting that there is a difference between 'saying' and (saying what your) 'belief' (based on the evidence of the study) is.
He then makes it clear that, 'For myself I am quite certain that the sum total of speed camera madness over the years has actually cost more lives.'
Keep up the good work Agent Cooke. You and Barnbrook are doing a fine job of bringing ridicule to the BNP.
Post Script: Dr. Mountain was on Radio Merseyside this afternoon confirming that the study found that lives are saved; the only argument is with Government figures.