It’s nearly 30 years since Britain’s first-ever speed camera was switched on over Twickenham bridge in Surrey.
The Gatso (short for Gatsometer) was the first fixed speed camera to gain Home Office Type Approval (HOTA). Trials began in 1988, before they were approved for use as enforcement devices in 1992. A Gatso uses radar to measure speed, then two static images for use when issuing tickets.
Gatso speed cameras – officially safety cameras – were originally grey, but a change in the law stipulated that all cameras must be visible to drivers. They also featured camera equipment using film, which had to be checked by operators. Digital versions that don’t rely on film were launched in 2007.
You’ll know if you’ve been caught by a Gatso, because a flash illuminates the car and its registration number. Crucially, it also captures the white calibration lines painted on the road.
Are road markings required?
There are two types of white lines, also known as Dragon’s Teeth. Some will be painted in the centre of the lane, while others will be found on the edges of the lane. Some Gatso cameras are accompanied by no road markings, either because the camera housing is a dummy or the road has been resurfaced.
As this Freedom of Information (FOI) request highlights, “there is no laid down distance [for road markings] and [they] can vary by both area and site”.
If the speed camera is to be used within Section 20 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act, then the lines or some other distance reference need to be present so that a secondary check can be carried out. The lines on the road are normally set at 5ft, 6ft, 1m or 2m intervals.
This is an important point, because Gatso speed cameras DO NOT require road markings for the speeding ticket to be enforceable.
The lines are there to make it easier for safety camera partnerships to provide the necessary evidence. Photogrammetry is a more effective secondary check.
Alternatively, other fixed features could be used to make the assessment of the distance travelled by the vehicle between the two images in the evidence. An example could be the road markings in the centre of the road.
‘Offence could still be prosecuted’
We contacted a road safety partnership for clarification. We were told that “if no lines are present an offence could still be prosecuted”.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) guide for the operational use of speed and red-light offence detection technology sheds more light on the subject.
Section 16.2.2 states: ‘HOTA unattended automatic devices will have a second independent method of checking the primary speed measurement. One such method offered by manufacturers is the taking of two photographs of the offending vehicle at a known time apart, which can be compared with the distance travelled within that time interval to drive at the speed of the vehicle. Only approved methods of secondary checks should be utilised.’
Modern speed cameras do not rely on road markings to catch speeding motorists. Take the SPECS digital cameras, which measure the average speed between two cameras. These are commonly found on A-roads and to enforce temporary speed limits on motorway roadworks.
Earlier this year, the Dorset Road Safety Partnership began work on replacing “obsolete” speed cameras across the county. The digital cameras can cover up to four lanes of traffic and do not require road markings to function.
The fact is, speed cameras have never needed painted road markings, they were simply there for evidence and enforcement purposes. However, that’s not to say that the markings can’t be used by motorists who feel a speeding ticket has been issued unfairly. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) explains how you can contest a speeding ticket.
If in doubt, don’t speed. If you see a camera, assume it is operational and that you will get caught if you speed past it. Be warned: you may not even see the speed camera.