How many speed cameras in the UK actually work?

25th June 2021

3D render of a yellow speed camera

The UK’s roads are home to nearly 7,000 speed cameras – the fourth highest amount in the world, beaten only by Russia, Italy and Brazil. But are all of these speed cameras always on?

How do speed cameras work?

The first camera to be installed in the UK was a Gatso camera in 1991 on the M40. The Gatso camera is the most commonly used in the UK, with nearly 4,000 of them on our roads. These big yellow boxes are instantly recognisable.

The Gatso speed camera is rear facing. They are positioned like this because of their flash. If they were front facing and took a picture, the flash could potentially blind drivers looking directly at the camera, causing the accidents they are designed to prevent.

The Gatso uses radar technology to detect a speeding vehicle. If a vehicle is speeding, the camera will be activated. Two pictures are taken in quick succession. By using the white lines painted on the road, the camera can measure the vehicle’s speed. The camera will determine that the vehicle must have been travelling at x miles per hour to move from one point to another in the time between the two pictures.

By measuring the vehicle’s length, the Gatso camera can also determine the speed limit imposed on it. A van might have a limit of 60mph on a duel carriageway for example, whilst a car is allowed to go to 70mph.

There are other variants of speed camera on the UK’s roads. Some use infrared technology to capture images without using a flash so they can be front facing. Others use two sets of cameras placed a set distance apart. They determine the speed of the vehicle by recording how long it takes it to reach the second camera from the first.

Which speed cameras are active?

Despite there being nearly 7,000 physical cameras on our roads, not all of them are working. In fact, research in 2017 suggests that only half of them are operational.

A freedom of information request by The Press Association in 2017 resulted in many regional police forces outlining how many of their speed cameras were active.

Police from the counties of Durham, North Yorkshire and Northamptonshire all revealed that none of their cameras were active at the time. Their cameras, however, are left standing when not active. The sight of the speed cameras is said to be enough to deter drivers from speeding in the first place.

Other counties report that only a small percentage of their speed cameras are currently operating. Out of the 272 cameras in Staffordshire, only 14 are active. In Scotland, just over a quarter of the cameras are active, whilst just over half of Wales’ cameras are on.

However, it’s worth remembering that this information is four years old. There could be more active cameras on the roads now, or even less.

Green average speed camera pointed at red lorry driving on motorway

How to tell if a speed camera is working

The only visible way to know if a camera is operational would be to look out for the flash. However, many types of camera don’t need a flash as they rely on infrared technology, or use a filter to protect drivers from the light. Also, on a brightly lit road, the camera might not need to flash in the first place.

Whilst the Gatso camera does flash, it is also rear facing. Turning around or looking in the mirror in the hope of catching a flash would simply draw your attention away from the road, putting yourself and others at risk.

With that in mind, it’s safest to assume that there is no way of knowing if the camera is working. The RAC recommend that the best option is to not worry about the whether the speed cameras are operational or not, but simply concentrate on not speeding in the first place!

What happens to those caught speeding?

If you are caught speeding on camera, you will be sent notice within 14 days. Interestingly, if you receive notice of the offense after the 14-day period, the notice is invalid.

You will be sent a Section 172 notice which must be returned to the police within 28 days. This notice acts as a way for you to inform the police of the identity of the driver. The notice will be sent to whoever the vehicle is registered to. This may not be the driver behind the wheel at the time of the offense.

The minimum penalty for speeding is a £100 fine and 3 penalty points on your license. Having 12 points put on your license could result you being disqualified from driving for 3 years.

Encourage your drivers to avoid speeding

If your fleet consists of several drivers, the thought of any number of them breaking the rules of the road can be a daunting one.

By introducing telematics to your vehicles, you can keep track of your drivers’ habits. If you notice a driver regularly speeding, you can bring it up with them and offer advice and training to make sure this doesn’t continue.

Get in touch with the team at Tele-Gence today and find out how telematics could be of benefit to the safety of your fleet.