CONTROVERSIAL average speed cameras on the A9 have caught fewer than 300 speeders since going live in October – less than four a day.
Transport chiefs claim the first figures published on the “yellow vultures” vindicate the decision to introduce them last year in a bid to cut deaths on the road dubbed the most dangerous in Scotland.
The main findings published by the A9 Safety Group, which includes Government agency Transport Scotland, said overall speeding was down from around one in three drivers to one in 20.
The cameras detected 298 vehicles exceeding the speed limit excessively – compared to 2,493 in the same period of 2013.
It also revealed excessive speeding - where drivers were traced travelling at more than 10mph above the speed limit - had fallen 97 per cent.
There has been no fatalities on the sections since the system was introduced on 28 October.
There is also no evidence of drivers avoiding the A9 and using “rat runs”.
The £3 million system, which features 100 cameras on 80 miles of single carriageway sections between Inverness and Dunblane, was introduced amid much controversy in October last year.
At the same time a pilot project where HGVs could drive at 50mph rathern than 40mph was introduced. Despite the latest statistics, critics claim the cameras are making the dual carriageway sections more dangerous.
Transport Scotland’s Stewart Leggett, the chair of the A9 Safety Group, said: “It is very encouraging to see the improved driver behaviour following the introduction of the average speed cameras and HGV speed limit pilot, ahead of the dualling.
“Drivers are clearly paying heed and moderating their speed, and we welcome this positive contribution to road safety on the A9.
“All the early findings on speed, journey time and journey time reliability are in line with our predictions, while traffic volumes on the A9 are remaining higher than in 2013, with no evidence of drivers diverting onto other routes.
“The low number of drivers being detected by the cameras and the speed profiles from along the route indicates the early effectiveness of the cameras in improving behaviour; but the A9 would be safer still if every driver observed the limits.
“We don’t want drivers facing fines and the cameras have never been an alternative to dualling.”
The figures have been welcomed by politicians, Police Scotland, Road Safety Scotland and the Road Haulage Association.
Chief Superintendent Iain Murray, head of road policing, said: “This is an encouraging start. In the first three months of operation we have seen a more than eight-fold decrease in the number of people caught speeding on this stretch of road compared with the same time last year when there were 2,493 offences recorded.
“It is clear that the cameras are changing driver behaviour in the way that we expected. This will undoubtedly help to make the A9 safer for all road users.
Michael McDonnell, director of Road Safety Scotland, said: “We know that around three quarters of A9 drivers believed average speed cameras would be ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’ in improving safety, and these new findings may strengthen that viewpoint further.
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“It’s important to stress that the cameras aren’t happening in isolation. They are just one part of a substantial package of measures to make the A9 safer such as engineering improvements, improved lighting and signing, and targeted publicity campaigns.
“As expected, there has been a slight increase in journey times, although some of this can be explained by roadworks that were in place as part of the dualling programme and some of the recent severe weather that we’ve seen.
“However, it is important to compare and contrast these extra minutes with the costs, both human and financial, of a serious accident, which can also close the road for hours at a time.”
Martin Reid of the Road Haulage Association said the majority of their members had noticed improvements on the A9 since the speed limits for HGVs rose from 40mph to 50mph.
He added: “Almost universally our members report that the flow of traffic is much improved and that journey times if anything can be slightly shorter.
“Recently, one of our members carried out an experiment by driving the A9 the day before the speed trial began then replicating the journey after the trial started.
“They then published the results in Transport News. Journey times from Perth to Inverness and back were reduced substantially at 50mph, even with the addition of the speed cameras - with only an additional 0.5 litre of diesel used.
“Our member reported the journey was far less stressful because there was a marked reduction in the need for any vehicle to overtake”.
David Stewart MSP, the Shadow Transport Minister who was instrumental in the introduction of the increased 50mph speed limit, said: “This massive decrease in the number of motorists speeding on the A9 is clearly welcome news.
“The trial increase in HGV speed looks as if it has helped to reduce journey times and more importantly has reduced driver frustration for those travelling behind lorries, which could often lead to dangerous overtaking.
“Over the past three months we have see a significant fall in the numbers of accidents and road closures on the A9 and most crucially in the number of fatalities.”
However, Mike Burns, spokesman for the “A9 Average Speed Cameras are Not the Answer” campaign, said: “There’s no denying there has been an effect on the A9, however the opinion varies on what the effect is.
“You now have vehicles travelling in convoy on a single carriageway, but when people move onto a dual carriageway, as one driver described it, it’s like champagne corks popping out of bottles because people are putting their foot down to get past the queues because they’re frustrated.
“The cameras don’t solve the problem of the A9. The SNP government have sat on their hands on the A9 for the past eight years. There were improvement projects due to start in 2007/8 which they cancelled and we ended up with this absolutely ludicrous A9 safety quango.”