How speed camera detectors work

The UK is now covered by a network of over 6,000 speed cameras.

Some of us regard cameras as a major contribution to road safety. Others view them as a revenue collecting device whose proliferation reflects the desire of a cynical and opportunist administration to extract yet another stealth tax from an increasingly suspicious population.

Of course, it is impossible to argue with an advertising campaign which implores you to ‘kill your speed, not a child’. However, this (and other) well meaning campaigns are based on the slightly iffy premise that ‘speed kills’. It doesn’t of course. Speed is after all just a relative concept. Crashing into things, now that may well kill someone, but it’s harder to legislate against accidents.

Whatever your views on the subject, it seems certain that the number of speed cameras will continue to increase, with cameras becoming ever more sophisticated as the manufacturers embrace the latest technology.

Whilst there are a number of different types of camera currently in use in the UK, there are, broadly speaking, two main types of camera detectors.

Radar and laser detectors can detect active speed cameras such as the familiar GATSO backward facing yellow box camera, which uses radar technology, and mobile or hand held cameras which are mostly laser based.

It is currently legal to own and use these detectors in the UK (but not, for example, in France). However this situation is currently under review (August 2007) and legislation my lead to a ban on their use.

Radar and laser detectors are however ineffective against the latest generation of TRUVELO induction looped cameras and digital SPECS average speed cameras.

The forward facing TRUVELO camera is triggered by strips in the road. It uses an infrared flash (to avoid dazzling oncoming motorists), and can photograph the driver as well as the number plate.

SPECS average speed cameras (commonly found on gantries above the road) use digital video technology to record the number plates of every passing vehicle. The images are time and date stamped so when the vehicle passes a second set of cameras a computer can calculate the average speed. SPECS cameras require no film and infrared illumination enables them to operate both night and day.

Nottinghamshire has the greatest number of SPECS cameras with 43 pairs located in permanent sites. Interestingly, Nottingham (or Shottingham as the locals call it) has one of the most spectacular rates of gun crime in the country. No connection of course, but words like ‘priorities’ might spring to mind.

GPS speed camera detectors and Satellite navigation detection systems both rely on a database of speed camera locations which is updated periodically and available via a subscription. These systems us GPS technology (see our article on Satellite navigation) and can warn drivers of the location of all known camera sites. Other information such as the type of camera and the enforced speed limit may also be available depending on the type of unit.

Both these systems are completely legal and are expected to remain so.

To conclude, a final word from the manufacturers of the SPECS camera system.

This is a quote from their marketing literature:

The SPECS system is so efficient and user friendly that Manchester CTO processed 2,500 offences in 6 man-hours.

It remains to be seen how the police will utilise all these saved man-hours. Catching up with paperwork perhaps?