Christopher Barham was fined after a CCTV camera took a picture of his car in gridlock outside Gidea Park station in Romford, Essex.

The camera must have been set to trigger fines for cars that remained motionless in a particular zone and poor old Mr Barham found himself on the receiving end of technology overriding common sense.

After 20 years of speed cameras and other technology on our roads (such as detecting vehicles using bus lanes etc) I accept they have helped to reduce crashes in certain areas. But they have also helped in driving down the number of traffic police in the UK which I feel isn’t a good thing, as well as driving up driver anger and frustration when fines are issued in ridiculous circumstances.

Sadly though, if you can meet targets with the use of technology and without expensive human involvement, that’s called progress.

But while fines can be issued and targets met through some forms of technology, this isn’t going to provide a holistic road safety solution that will offer long-term benefits of cultural change.

Technology after all lacks the ability to apply judgement. Therefore, if a camera is set to catch drivers travelling in excess of 40 mph on a quiet dual carriageway, no matter what time of day or weather / traffic conditions, then that’s what it will do.

And like Mr Barham, if the criteria is to fine any vehicle that remains stationery in a no parking zone, irrespective of the reasons why, then it’s only going to make drivers sceptical about road safety measures.

Back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, a traffic police officer or traffic warden would use their own judgement, and sometimes a quiet word would have been enough to change behaviour. In those days drivers wouldn’t have received a parking ticket simply for being part of a traffic queue and it would have been unlikely that a driver would have got a speeding ticket for doing 50mph on an empty dual carriageway.

Instead, he or she might have been stopped by the police and told in no uncertain terms about the error of their ways, and in my opinion this balanced approach did more for road safety than what happens now.

Writing this blog reminded me of a conversation I had with a driving instructor who had been in the business for many years. She told me that during her early days of teaching learners she had a pupil who had a heavy right foot.

On one occasion the pupil entered a 40mph limit from a national speed limit zone and failed to slow down even though the instructor was telling him to brake.

A police officer using a radar gun pulled the car over and the instructor explained to the officer that she had instructed the pupil to slow down, but as he failed to respond she used the dual controls to reduce the speed.

The officer said he wouldn’t give either the pupil or the instructor a ticket but wanted to talk to the pupil. He told the learner driver, in a way only a police officer can, about the dangers of speeding and as a result the pupil never sped again during his lessons. In fact, after a few years of driving experience he began his training to become an approved driving instructor.

If he’d been issued with an automatic speeding ticket that day I think he would have become extremely cynical about road safety. Instead, he chose a career in the driver training industry.

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