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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Resistance to Speed Cameras Grows in Britain

Resistance has grown in Britain to speed cameras like those recently turned off (probably temporarily) on the Scottsdale section of the 101. The New York Times reports on the growing number of arsons, explosions and other direct actions aimed at disabling the cameras.
KELVEDON HATCH, England - To drive in Britain is to measure out your trip in speed cameras. As inevitable as road signs and as implacable as the meanest state trooper, they lurk everywhere, the government's main weapon against impatient drivers.

It is a shame that so many people hate them.

Among the ways that motorists have made this clear: spraying the cameras with paint; knocking them over; covering them in festive wrapping paper and garbage bags; digging them up; shooting, hammering and firebombing them; festooning them with burning tires; and filling their casings with self-expanding insulation foam that, when activated, blows them apart from the inside out.

Visual examples can be seen on the Web site of a vigilante group called Motorists Against Detection, which displays color photographs of smashed, defaced and burned-out cameras - pornography for the anti-camera movement.
Despite public sentiment against them, the government makes the case that they successfully reduce speeds and deaths on the road.

Other, less violent methods of thwarting the cameras have spread as well:
Paul Smith, head of an anti-camera group called the Safe Speed Road Safety Campaign, said that drivers spend so much time scouring the roadside for cameras that they forget to pay attention to the road.

"We've got a nation of people who have one eye looking out for the next speed camera, another looking for a speed limit sign and another looking at the speedometer - which is a bit of a shame, when you only have two eyes," he said. Camera technology has moved on considerably since the 1990s, when the first speed cameras were installed in Britain. Now, in addition to the standard cameras that photograph the speeding cars' license plates, there are cameras that can accurately photograph drivers' faces - so that they cannot claim someone else was driving at the time the speeding took place - and cameras that work in teams, calculating average speeds along a stretch of road.

Of course, for every ingenious new camera, there is an ingenious new camera-thwarting device. These include constantly updating global positioning system equipment that alerts drivers to speed camera locations and a special material that, when sprayed on a license plate, is said to make it impervious to flash photographs.

There are also the low-tech methods of covering a license plate with mud and altering its letters with black electrical tape.
Meanwhile, Motorists Against Detection has called for all out war on the cameras. Claiming its members have already destroyed 1000 cameras, the shadowy group recently declared a "summer of MADness."
Motorists Against Detection, the vigilante anti-speed camera group have announced a summer of MADness which will see them target for destruction all speed cameras in the UK. It’s now going to be a period of zero tolerance against all speed cameras, said their campaigns director Capt Gatso.

The group claims speed cameras are just money-making machines and they have given the authorities long enough to prove their worth. The first camera to fall in the summer campaign is in south east London on the A2 at the Sun in the Sands roundabout on-slip heading northbound towards the Blackwall Tunnel.

Capt Gatso, the group's campaigns director, said: "We have completely pulled it out of the ground, it is now lying flat. You can see some of our handiwork posted on www.speedcam.co.uk. He added: In many areas the cameras have not saved one life - the statistics for road deaths haven't gone down. In some areas they have actually gone up - in Essex, for instance, which has a high density of cameras there are more people being killed. We are now planning to target any and all cameras until the Government sees sense and rethinks its road safety policy. Before we had speed cameras we had the safest roads in Europe - since their introduction this is no longer true.

The announcement will surprise many in road safety circles since the group has publicly declared it would not attack cameras outside schools or on high streets. But Capt Gatso said: We need to focus attention on what the cameras are about. We’ve said we wouldn’t attack the ones in built up and urban areas but that’s not where most of the cameras are. There are a lot of frustrated people among our members who have seen the number of cameras increase while road safety levels have fallen. Indeed, the only thing the cameras have done successfully is to reduce the number of traffic officers patrolling our roads and lose a lot of decent people their driving licences and their livelihoods.

MAD is the UK’s only direct action anti-speed camera group and it’s been going since summer 2000. In that time they have taken out just over 1,000 cameras. Their membership who are normally law-abiding people - vary in numbers but there is a hard core of around 200 people throughout the UK who use Internet chat forums, encrypted email and pay as you go phones to keep in touch and plan campaigns.

The group says it has perfected a new and quick way of destroying speed cameras which will enable them to destroy a roadside camera in just a few seconds. Capt Gatso added: The Government and the camera partnerships have failed to spin out via their PR campaigns to convince people that the cameras are there for road safety. Motorists know that they aren’t. All it’s done is further damage the police/public relationship and further alienating communities which they desperately need onside at this time. Many cameras have gone up on busy roads without any history of accidents despite that being the main criteria for installation.And all the time the partnerships and the Treasury rake in millions of extra revenue.
The spread of a direct action campaign that targetted the cameras and their power to function as intended, whether through direct attack on the cameras or subterfuge to avoid detection, would be a positive development, indeed. As with all the cameras spreading through modern cities, these cameras are primarily about control and surveillance, regardless of what their boosters may say about safety.

But, unfortunately, MAD makes the mistake of calling for a reduction in cameras but an increase in police officers. By framing their argument primarily as one of safety and accepting the state's argument for their necessity, they wind up in a debate that the state can't help but win. More cops, more cameras... why not both? This is a troublesome argument for obvious reasons, especially in a political environment like the current one where, thanks to the fear-mongering, opportunism and manipulations of the elite, the distinctions between safety and security have blurred into almost utter meaninglessness.

In fact, in late September, the Herald reported that "Exceeding the speed limit was the main cause in only %5 of accidents..." Looked at this way, opponents of the cameras could make an argument that nullifies the state's demands for both more police and more cameras, allowing the case to center instead on the surveillance and power aspects of the technology, which is where it ought to be if our goal is something more than safety - like human freedom.

(Thanks to Collin Sick for the NYT article)

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Take MAD's "Spot the Speed Camera" game to get an idea of the way the cameras are being used in Britain.

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