Here in a flash: What to make of speed camera data now it’s here

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Last month, I blogged about how the government had given clear instructions to councils and police forces about the speed camera data they should release. They were also told to do it quickly.

This week, Lancashire’s Partnership for Road Safety – a multi-agency partnership no less – became one of the first to release the data. Lancashire County Council one of the partners, had refused Freedom of Information requests in the past asking for this very information, arguing it would impact on the ability of the cameras to cut crime (ie speeding).

So what do we learn from the data? Well, the partnership has released a pdf for each of the three authorities it covers – Blackburn with Darwen, Lancashire and Blackpool – listing the number of speeding offences which resulted in a fine being paid, or a speed awareness course being attended, or led to a summons being issued or which were outstanding or which were cancelled.

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

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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.

DATA: Don’t get too excited about speed camera data just yet

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One of the most frustrating and bizarre Freedom of Information request standoffs could be about to come to an end after the Government said more data about speed cameras must be released.

The Department for Transport has confirmed this morning that it wants councils and police forces – which often work as one when it comes to ‘road safety partnerships’ – to release more information about the cameras.

The DfT press release states:

This could include data about accident rates at camera sites, vehicle speeds and the numbers of motorists prosecuted or offered training after offences recorded by cameras.

The press release states that the government wants ‘full information’ about speed cameras to be released. Road Safety minister Mike Penning said:

“Public bodies should be accountable and if taxpayers’ money is being spent on speed cameras then it is right that information about their effectiveness is available to the public.

“The proposals I have announced today will help show what impact cameras are having on accident and casualty rates and also how the police are dealing with offenders.

“This is in line with our commitment to improve transparency of government data so that the public are able to make more informed judgements about the work of local and central government.”

In theory, this is potentially very good news – but there’s still a long way to go yet. The government has set a publication date of April. It did the same with council spending figures, due to be published every month from January, but what’s in place for those councils which fail to make that deadline?

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