Evidence shows that speed cameras do make roads safer

Placing speed cameras on roads really does reduce the number of road traffic injuries and deaths, Australian researchers have confirmed.

Transport authorities that deploy speed cameras argue that reducing traffic speed cuts the number and severity of road injuries, but their use has both supporters and detractors, so the team from The University of Queensland, in Brisbane, set out to investigate whether they are effective. They looked for studies that had assessed the impact of speed cameras on speeding, road crashes, crashes causing injury and fatalities.

After searching available literature, they identified 35 relevant studies. "While there is variation in the results, the overall finding is clear – speed cameras do reduce injuries and deaths," says lead researcher Cecilia Wilson.

Compared with controls, the average speed fell as did the percentage of vehicles that exceeded local speed limits. The numbers of crashes in the areas of the cameras also fell, and so did the numbers of people killed or injured.

Speed is a critical issue. Driving faster than the posted limit, or too fast for the prevailing conditions, increases the risk of crashes, and also the chance of those crashes causing more serious injury.

"Even though some of the studies were not conducted as carefully as others, the consistency in the way that vehicle speeds, crashes, road traffic injuries and deaths all reduced in places where speed cameras were operating shows that these cameras do a good job," says Wilson.

She points out that none of these studies were carried out in low-income countries, where most road traffic crashes occur, and calls for further research in these settings.

The Queensland team's findings are published this month in The Cochrane Library.

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020 road traffic crashes will have moved from ninth to third in the rank of causes of poor health.

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