AVERAGE speed cameras could be extended to more Scottish roads because the A9 scheme has won public support, transport minister Derek Mackay has told The Scotsman.
The minister said he was now “quite open” to deploying more camera systems “where it is merited”.
Mr Mackay said the A9 cameras, which have been operating for four months, had “turned the corner on public opinion”.
The minister said that while cameras had been in use on the A77 in Ayrshire for ten years, the A9 scheme had confirmed their popular acceptance.
“The A9 has been the litmus test for the effectiveness of average speed cameras,” he said.
“The A9 shows public opinion has changed. The principle is now far better established,” he said. “There is an important message for the rest of the country.
“Average speed cameras, if deployed in the right places, can help assist road safety. Extra journey times are a price worth paying for a safer route.”
Last month, the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency revealed that the A9 cameras had detected fewer than four speeders a day in their first three months of operation.
A total of 298 drivers were caught compared to 2,493 in the same period in 2013.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
The £3 million scheme also cut overall speeding from one in three drivers to one in 20.
There is thought to have been only one death on the A9 in the last four months compared with eight in 2014 and nine in 2013.
The cameras, which measure speed over set distances, cover 80 miles of single-carriageway stretches between Perth and Inverness because these account for most deaths on that part of the road.
However, they also extend to the dual-carriageway section from Perth to south of Dunblane, because of “high-severity” crashes involving vehicles turning at cross-over junctions.
Mr Mackay declined to name any potential new camera routes, but said they would be considered on a “case-by-case” basis.
He also said no decision had been taken as to whether the cameras would stay on the A9 after dualling of the road between Perth and Inverness is completed in ten years’ time.
There have been calls for wider use of such cameras since the 29-mile A77 scheme between Symington and Girvan significantly cut deaths and serious crashes.
They have also been used at major roadworks, such as during the A80 upgrade to motorway between Glasgow and Stirling.
In 2009, Colin McNeill, the then head of the Lothian and Borders Safety Camera Partnership, which runs the area’s cameras, said they should be used on the 60-mile A1 between Edinburgh and the English Border to avert “the sudden rise and drop in speeds around fixed cameras”.
Other possible candidates include stretches of the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness, the A92 in both Fife and north of Dundee, the A702 which links Edinburgh and the M74, and the A68 and A697 in the Borders.
Mr Mackay’s support for extending cameras was backed by Labour and motoring experts, but the Liberal Democrats said they were not the answer.
Labour infrastructure spokeswoman Mary Fee said: “Using average speed cameras to enforce speed limits has clear safety benefits as well as being a cost-effective way to reduce climate emissions and fuel costs for motorists.
“The example of the A9 clearly shows it is an effective tool in improving road safety that must be coupled with addressing driving behaviour.”
Prof Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “We support all methods of speed limit enforcement, and average speed cameras have advantages over cameras measuring speeds at fixed points.
“Average speed cameras are common at roadworks. Speed control over a distance, however it is achieved, has safety and traffic flow benefits.”
But Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Highlands MP Danny Alexander, who has been an arch critic of the A9 cameras, said they had yet to prove themselves.
He said: “The transport minister has his blinkers on if he thinks Highland motorists are happy with the SNP’s record on the A9.
“He rightly told the Scottish Parliament last month that a longer period, typically three years, was required before evaluating the effectiveness of safety measures.
“If he spoke to Highlanders on the A9 corridor, he would know the SNP’s unwillingness to listen to genuine concerns, from [business group] the SCDI among others, about the average speed cameras, has not been forgotten.
“Dualling the A9 is by far the best way to make the A9 safer, something the SNP have utterly failed to do after eight years in power.”
The Freight Transport Association, which represents haulage firms, said the A9 cameras had been beneficial.
Scotland manager Margaret Simpson said: “Up until now the A9 trials have proven successful.
“Transparency and public awareness have been some of the key factors in ensuring the A9 project has been the success that it has.”
Neil Greig: ‘Big Brother is a price worth paying for fewer fatalities and injuries on Scotland’s roads’
There is no doubt the early fears among A9 users have been ameliorated and most drivers now find driving along the route less stressful.
If this could be repeated around Scotland, then it would be good news for road safety and driver happiness. It must be remembered, however, that the A9 is a pilot scheme designed as a stop gap before full dualling of the route.
The A9 is also unique in the way it bypasses communities and has long, open vistas which seem to encourage some drivers to treat the limit with disdain.
If the wider use of average speed cameras was linked to a clear promise to upgrade each road it was used on, then it would be welcomed by all drivers as a clear commitment to engineer out problems rather than “control” them. The principle of exchanging safety for a slightly longer journey time may be established on the A9 but average speed cameras cannot become an alternative to having our old roads engineered to the highest-possible modern safety standards or cutting back on high-profile roads policing.
There are many routes in Scotland that might benefit from average speed cameras but it must be done on a case-by-case basis on routes with speed-related problem.
This would discount many twisty, limited-visibility road sections where it is virtually impossible to do 60mph safely and where there are few junctions.
Long-distance trunk roads such as the A82, A96, A702 and A835 immediately spring to mind, but the key for each would be a rigorous and transparent safety case and clear value for money.
Other routes with high accident rates linked to motorcycle use may benefit, such as the A811 and A84 in the Trossachs.
Some drivers might still see widespread camera detection as “Big Brother” spying on their every move. In our view, that is a price worth paying for fewer deaths and injuries, but some may still need to be convinced the nanny state has not gone too far.
• Neil Greig is policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists