Uh Oh, the zero-tolerance speeding story has popped up again. This time it’s about how the cameras on the M1 and M25 motorways are set to go live, nicking anyone doing 72mph at any time of day or night.
The same story popped up last year too and was widely reported to be fake news. This week it gained coverage on some big media websites who you would expect to have known better. So, either the cameras are actually live or the internet and social media really is a never-ending cycle-of-lies.
The reality is that different local traffic authorities control the many sets of speed cameras on our motorway network and, while it might be true that one or more authority is trialling a change, it almost certainly isn’t a blanket shift in Government or policing policy.
Not that common sense will stop the social media fury and all the usual borrox that happens when speeding is mentioned. Last year, there was uproar when the Chief Constable of West Mercia Police proposed that the long-standing recommended leeway of ten-per-cent-plus 2mph be swapped for prosecution for doing just 1mph over the limit.
Most of the anger then was based on speedometers not being accurate enough and everyone would have to have a calibrated speedometer, checked at least once a year. But you don’t get to be a Chief Constable by repeatedly demonstrating your stupidity in public. In 24 years testing bikes and cars I’ve seen a lot of speedometers, and for the last few years, thanks to GPS I’ve had the chance to check their accuracy. Some are closer than others but in all that time I’ve never, ever seen one that under-reads. Which isn’t to say they don’t exist – I’m sure those old Smiths Chronometric units on old British bikes that have internals like grandad's pocket watch must be interesting to calibrate – but I’ve never seen an under-reading unit that wasn’t also showing other serious problems (like a frayed speedo cable that also made the needle jump around erratically). And I’m guessing that, in the digital age, the manufacturers can calibrate them as accurately as they want. Which explains why they are deliberately set high to keep their customers out of prison (you can’t buy a new car in prison).
So, assuming your speedo over-reads by ten per cent (which is common), when you are doing an actual 40mph, it’ll be reading 44mph. Under the current ‘ten-per-cent-plus-2mph’ you’d be allowed to get away with a genuine 46mph, at which point your speedo would be reading 50.6mph.
So to get nicked under the zero tolerance rules you’d be seeing 44mph on a typically over-reading speedo in a 40mph limit or 77mph in a 70 limit. Or put it another way, you’ll know damn well that you are speeding and should man-up and take the punishment.
And this is the real point here. It doesn’t matter whether the speed camera story is true or not. Even if your speedo is 100 per cent accurate, why would you do more than 40mph in a 40mph limit and then complain if you got caught? The signs are enormous and painted bright red and white. Like most people I claim to stick to the 30mph and 40mph limits, and mostly I do…sort-of. But sometimes I don’t. Or the 50s or the 60s and 70s too. I am a bad man, but usually I get away with it, like everyone else. And because I get away with it, speeding becomes normalised and so when I get caught I get frustrated (with myself). But I also accept the punishment because I am a bad man who breaks the law.
When you choose to live in a civilised society you understand that in amongst all the benefits society will make some rules that you don’t like or agree with. Thankfully the good bits (law and order, not having to defend your family with a shotgun every night and someone else emptying the bins, tending our wounds and educating our kids) more-than make up for the occasional speed-awareness course or £100 fine. It doesn’t mean you can’t do 45mph in a 40mph zone, just that you might want to think about whether the potential fine is worth the extra pleasure that the additional 5mph brings.