Are we all in it together, or just why do average speed cameras work so well?

Blog post posted on 22/02/17 |

I write this after having driven up and down the longest average speed camera equipped road in the UK (and possibly the world), which is the A9 from Dunblane to Inverness. 

IAM RoadSmart is a member of the A9 safety group; we normally meet at the southern end but this time round we were in Inverness, giving me the ideal opportunity to see the entire system in action again.

One unexpected (and not totally welcome) benefit has been better mobile phone coverage along the traditionally poorly connected A9 corridor.  There is now no escape from the office as connectivity had to be improved so that the cameras could transmit their data!  The best solution is as ever to switch the phone off but that did highlight the continuing gaps in DAB radio coverage!

The A9 safety group is considering a campaign on distraction and the meeting spent time discussing past IAM RoadSmart reports and deciding what were the biggest distractions – the scenery or the tech in your car – or both?

A recent fatal crash on the A9 involving a van driver hitting stationary traffic had all the hallmarks of a distracted driver crash so the timing is fortuitous.  The campaign will now go to creative treatment and I am hopeful it will have wider uses than just on the Highland Highway.

But it’s the impact of the average speed cameras on speeding that continues to have the greatest effect.  Two and a half years in and compliance is running at over 99% with only 11 speeding offences a day being detected over the whole 136 mile route.

 In the past, most of my trips up the A9 would virtually guarantee at least one heart stopping moment as a car appeared over the horizon at manic speed or an overtake was attempted straight in your face. 

There were two drivers who felt unwilling (or unable) to sit in platoons during my journey but once past the slowest vehicle they just sit a bit ahead of the pack and don’t disappear – which makes me wonder why they bothered!  For the majority it seemed drivers of all types in all kinds of cars were willing to sit at 45/50mph to await a dual led section or an overtaking lane.

I can’t think of any other road safety intervention that could have delivered such an instant and sustained improvement in driver behaviour.  It seems to me the cameras appear to instil an egalitarian “we are all in it together” spirit but also the 50 mph limit for HGVs has helped. A platoon moving at a slightly higher pace seems to be more acceptable and we now have an outbreak of Zen like calmness on a road that used to be a byword for frantic progress.

There are still issues – 10 years of upcoming road works for one as the route won’t be fully dualled until 2025 at the earliest.  And then there is the part of the A9 we often forget about – the 100 miles north of Inverness up to Wick.  It’s part of the North Coast 500 route which has been a stunning success and so far does not appear to have caused additional crashes.  Unexpectedly it has caused Porsches and Ferraris to become common place on quiet north of Scotland roads.  You can learn more about the A9 project here and the North Coast 500 here.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s director of policy and research