Speed camera myths exposed, including flashing headlights and ‘10% rule’

Many motorists have been caught speeding after failing to spot a stationary or moving speed camera. Seeing the bright yellow camera or parked vans, drivers may worry about how fast they were going or whether their speedometer is slightly defective.

What many people don't know, however, is how speed cameras work and how and why traffic tickets are issued to drivers.

With this in mind, Gareth Thomas, former North Wales Police Officer and Accident Reduction Officer at Go Safe, explained how speed cameras work, the truth behind some of the most popular myths and claims and – and how motorists can avoid getting caught.

He told the Daily Star, "I decided after I retired that I wanted to make the roads in this area as safe as possible. The goal of cameras is to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads. Go Safe prefers to educate drivers rather than penalize them with fines and demerit points."

Here, Gareth answers a series of questions that will hopefully save you from a fine.

Is it true that speed vans must always be visible?

No. There are no visibility laws, so nothing prevents an officer from operating in the dark. But they do not often opt for it, claiming that visibility in itself is a deterrent.

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Gareth said, "Legally, we don't have to be visible. I could wear camouflage if I wanted to – but it's all about fairness, education and accident prevention. Even if I parked my van and went for a walk somewhere, it would immediately deter people from speeding."

Are officers only allowed to catch motorists traveling in one direction?

No. Every car that passes a Go Safe van is recorded by the officer's camera. So if you're going over the speed limit, whether you're going in the same direction as the van or the opposite direction, you could face a ticket.

Is it true that the 10 percent rule exists?

Yes. You won't get a ticket if your speed doesn't exceed the limit by more than 10 percent plus 1 mile per hour on roads in North Wales, Gareth says. For example, driving 35 mph or more in a 30 mph zone is recorded as a speeding violation.

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Do officers enforce anything other than speeding?

Yes. Officers are there to make sure you are wearing your seat belt and not using your cell phones behind the wheel. Anyone who violates these laws will be prosecuted. For this reason, you will sometimes see a Go Safe Speed Van in an area where there are already permanent speed cameras in place.

Is it illegal to eat behind the wheel?

No it isn't. However, if you get distracted while snacking behind the wheel, police could prosecute you for careless driving. Gareth said, "It's to be welcomed. I once had a lady in my sights and she looked in the mirror and had lipstick on.

"She was driving on the cat's eye in the middle of the road and drove off. I recommended that she be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention."

Is it illegal to flash headlights to alert motorists to a Go Safe speed van?

If drivers choose to signal to warn others of a speed van, they could be breaking the law. Section 89 of the Police Act 1997 makes it an offence to "wilfully prevent a police officer from doing his duty".

However, Gareth says that while it is a criminal offence, it is very difficult to prove. He said, "I don't mind people flashing their lights to warn them about the speed van – I just want to educate people and the van to act as a speed deterrent."

How long do Go Safe speed vans usually stay at a particular location?

For technical reasons, a speed van will only stay in a particular spot for 90 minutes, Gareth said. During his average eight-hour shift, he usually visits three different places in the region to visit.

Who decides where go safe speed vans park?

Enforcement is usually done in certain areas for a number of reasons, including:

  • Death or serious injury occurred on scene.
  • Speeds in the area were recorded as significantly high.
  • Residents have expressed concerns about speeding, and those concerns have been confirmed by a traffic speed survey.
  • Go Safe supports a police enforcement campaign

What happens if I get caught speeding?

It all depends on the circumstances in which you were caught speeding and how much you exceeded the limit. The minimum penalty for being caught speeding on UK roads is a £100 fine.

But Gareth explained that in certain circumstances the police could offer the opportunity to take part in a speed awareness course – an alternative to a fine and penalty points. Gareth, said: "An accredited course is much more likely to improve the driving behavior and consequently make our roads safer.

"Courses are available to drivers who respond quickly to the 'cues' and who have been driving at no more than 10 percent plus 9 miles per hour over the posted speed limit."

For example, someone driving on a freeway at more than 130 km/h would not be offered the awareness course. Those who do not have a clean license at the time of the office or if you have taken the course in the last three years, you will likely not be offered the awareness course as an option.

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