Jayne Dowle: Why we may as well drive round with ATM signs on our bumpers

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Pledge to fine motorists for going at 71mph on motorways proves speed cameras are about money, not safety.

I’VE always suspected it and now we know it’s true. Speed cameras – with some honourable exceptions – are there to make money rather than to reinforce road safety.

Olly Martins, Police and Crime Commissioner for Bedfordshire, says he plans to introduce a policy of zero tolerance on the 70mph speed limit on the M1 in his patch. Even if you are doing just one mile over the limit, you’ll be hit by a £100 fine, points on your licence and even more expensive insurance premiums.

Or you could attend a speed awareness course, which will cost you £90, and could involve you travelling to the other end of the country to find one with vacancies.

Oh, for those good old-fashioned days when the police really did have our best interests at heart. There’s no PR campaign invented which can dress this one up; this police chief wants to make money out of the public. I’m not sure if the charge would stand up in court, but it amounts to borderline extortion.

I pay my taxes. I don’t want to hear some bleeding heart plea from a police chief about cuts in government funding leaving him with no choice but to put his fiscal burden on the motorist. Mr Martins says that his force is at financial breaking point, which means he faces the prospect of losing up to 25 officers. He reckons that his calculating scheme has the potential to generate up to a million pounds a year in revenue.

If putting the onus on us is the only funding solution he can come up with, you have to ask where his priorities lie. They can’t be in the public interest. There’s not a word about road safety.

Somebody from the Government needs to step in and calls a halt to this plan before it catches on with other forces. If Bedfordshire gets away with it, we might as well all drive around with ATM signs on our bumpers. Motoring organisations are up in arms, but it’s us, the individual motorists, who will suffer.

The proposed toll would be collected by permanent 24/7 speed cameras which would monitor drivers on his busy stretch of the M1, between junctions 10 and 13. Thousands upon thousands of motorists must pass this way every day. I do it myself, every time I head south to visit family. Constant roadworks, errant lorries straying out of lane, coaches veering from left to right and confusing chicane systems clearly aren’t stressful enough. Now every motorist who uses this stretch of road will be under even more pressure. And then doctors wonder why our collective blood pressure is so high.

When I learned to drive, all those years ago, my AA instructor reliably informed me that when driving on the motorway you were allowed a 10 per cent tolerance before you were liable to be prosecuted for going over the limit. Can you imagine such freedom now?

I’m a careful driver. You can’t be a boy racer with two kids in the back. I yearn though for the days when I could just get in the car and drive, instead of putting my foot down in fear. Only the other day as I pulled onto the M1 at Junction 37 to head north, I thought of that 10 per cent tolerance dear old Roy told me about, and wondered what had happened to personal judgement, a bit of leeway to accelerate out of the way of the idiot trying to cut you up. Every day our freedom to react to the road conditions in front of us is curtailed. You can’t argue with the unblinking eye of a speed camera.

Mr Martins says that there is one solution to this – and that is to stick within the speed limit. Well, that’s an egregious response if ever there was one. If everyone followed his advice and didn’t allow the speedometer to climb he wouldn’t garner the extra revenue he’s after. He knows, because he’s a policeman, that human nature is weak and frail. He also knows that speedometers in your average car are not calibrated to such a careful degree. One mile an hour over the limit? It’s just too tight a margin.

Give us a break. We all know that 70 mph is the speed limit on motorways. And in my 20-odd years of driving, I’ve come across very few people who flagrantly and habitually break this limit. Most drivers – and I speak from personal appearance here – go over speed limits by accident, because they don’t see the sign, or don’t realise that a special speed applies in certain circumstances.

And most of us can’t recall the Highway Code in our heads whilst propelling several tons of metal along a road and simultaneously trying to remember the way, change gear and avoid crashing.

I just want to get from A to B, not live in a police state where a traffic officer can stop us at random and demand money for even the most minor misdemeanour. Mr Martins would do well to put himself behind the wheel, and remember that he is in Milton Keynes, not Mexico.

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