Date registered: Jan 2005
Vehicle: 1992 W126 300 SE
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More Big Brother
Surveillance on drivers may be increased
Cameras could be used to catch those ignoring phone and seat belt laws
Duncan Campbell and Rob Evans
Tuesday March 7, 2006
Drivers talking on mobile phones or failing to wear seatbelts could find themselves tracked down through a widened use of road surveillance cameras, under proposals due to be floated in parliament tomorrow. The plans would form part of a major expansion of camera surveillance which critics say is already transforming Britain into the most watched country in the world.
The case for cameras to be focused on people using mobiles as they drive is made by the independent adviser to the transport select committee, Robert Gifford, of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts)
He argues that automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology should be applied in new ways to help defray costs of cameras and to catch offenders. "One of the good things about ANPR is that people are often multiple offenders so it would provide useful intelligence," he said. "Those responsible for 7/7 got to Luton station by car."
Mr Gifford said expanding the use of technology for tracking the movements of cars could lead police to people who had committed other offences in the same way that Al Capone was eventually caught through his income tax evasion. He claimed that for greater safety and "the greater good of society", most people would be prepared to accept "a slight reduction of our liberty".
Existing road cameras divide into two groups: speed cameras, of which there are around 6,000 nationally; and up to 8,000 ANPR cameras which trigger a reaction when wanted, stolen or cloned number plates or uninsured cars are spotted. Under the proposal, police would also look out for mobile phone users and seatbelt offenders. Those arguing in favour of expanding the cameras cite the continuing death toll on roads and the threat of terrorism. In 2004, 3,221 people died in accidents and 31,130 were seriously injured.
It is also argued that the cameras bring in essential revenue.
Department of Transport figures released under the Freedom of Information Act indicated that total fine receipts for speeding and traffic light offences detected by camera in 2003-04 were Ã‚Â£113.5m, of which nearly Ã‚Â£92m was "reinvested in road safety as payments back to ... the police, local highway authorities and magistrates courts". The Treasury retained the balance of nearly Ã‚Â£22m.
Tomorrow's transport committee session and a further meeting next week will examine how far this technology can be expanded and what use can be made of the data. Evidence will be presented by bodies representing the police and organisations that campaign on road safety.
Any attempt to widen the application of camera surveillance is likely to be strongly resisted.
Paul Smith, founder of the Safe Speed campaign which opposes cameras, said: "Ministers and senior civil servants are largely being persuaded that technological interventions are a good idea by those with a vested interest in the technology. The sums involved are huge."
Mainstream motoring organisations also have reservations. Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA Motoring Trust, believed that current technology was not good enough to implement the idea properly: "It would be difficult to prove whether you were holding your mobile phone or scratching your ear."
A spokeswoman for Liberty said increasing the use of cameras to catch drivers breaking the law would not be a curb on their civil liberties.