DATA: Will speed camera secrecy be gone in a flash?

Say cheese

The Department for Transport yesterday posted some good news for journalists on its website – details of the data councils and police forces are to be obliged to release about speed cameras.

Back in December, transport minister Mike Penning announced he was setting up a working group to propose what data should be released. Given the working group was made up, in part, of councils and police forces – the very organisations which have refused countless Freedom of Information requests for speed camera data – I suggested at the time there was a long way to go before the release of the data was guaranteed.

Now the type of data councils and police forces must release has been confirmed:

Figures showing the numbers of accidents and casualties at camera sites – both before and after cameras were installed – will be published by local authorities.

Police forces will publish the number of speeding prosecutions arising from each camera in their area, as well as force-wide information about whether offenders are fined, complete a speed awareness course or are taken to court.

The Highways Agency will publish data for the motorways and trunk roads it operates.

So what data can we expect to be coming our way?

In the 12-page report of the working committee, it’s interesting to note that the group called for all speed camera data back to 1990 to be released – ensuring that before and after installation comparisons are available for every camera location in the country. Where this isn’t possible, the group suggests data for the five years prior to the introduction of a speed camera should be made available.

The report also suggests that details of different types of casualties – fatalities, serious injuries, minor injuries – are also easy to release. Indeed, in many cases that already happens.

The data released relating to casualties and collisions should also make clear over what length of road around the speed camera the accidents took place on. This metric differs around the country.

The average speed of drivers past speed cameras before and after their introduction should also be released – if that data is collected.

Interestingly, the decision to tell police forces to release details of the number of prosecutions from each camera in their area goes against the advice of the working group, which argued it would make speed cameras less effective (presumably if people thought they were less likely to be caught) and make the most profitable cameras the target for vandal attacks – an excuse trotted out by West Midlands Police to refuse information under FOI.

In response to that, a briefing note produced by the DfT says: 

In relation to offence data the Department considers there is a strong justification in terms of public transparency and accountability to publish this information site by site for fixed camera sites.   There has been further  dialogue with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), whose roads  policing lead has confirmed support for moving to a position where site  specific data is released with a review after six months.

The group also said publishing mobile camera site data would be compromising to law enforcement and also be unreliable as the amount of enforcement from one year to the next would change at every location. Mr Penning has agreed to that.

So, when can we expect to see the data? Councils and police forces have to let the DfT know by July 20  where they plan to publish the data, which DfT will then link to from one central ‘hub’ – presumably in a similar way the Department for Communities and Local Government did with council spending data.

Mr Penning originally wanted to be in a position to get the data released by last April. That deadline has obviously been and gone – but the delay does appear to have resulted in a more definite set of rules for releasing the data, something still lacking in other forms of new data, such as council spending.

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