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Britons Feud Over Speed Cameras
UPDATED - Tuesday January 20, 2004 5:28am
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LONDON (AP) - Karl Joyce was so angry when speed cameras snapped two of his friends that he decided to take revenge.

Masked and dressed in black, the 20-year-old placed a car tire full of bottles of gasoline on a camera monitoring busy Dereham Road in Norwich, eastern England. He was about to light it when a motorist called police.

Joyce, who received a one-year sentence for arson last year, is one of the more extreme examples of a bitter national feud.

While opinion polls say most Britons consider the cameras a good thing, some see them as "Big Brother" devices that violate privacy and civil liberties, and often make mistakes. The stiff fines they engender are seen by some as a stealth tax.

The manager of one company that maintains roadside speed cameras said his workers have been pelted with eggs. Vandals have blown up speed cameras, set them afire or ripped them down.
Britons Feud Over Speed Cameras

Britons Feud Over Speed Cameras

They also say there is no real avenue of appeal since the fines arrive by mail and drivers are often convicted and sentenced before they even know they broke the law. But activists such as Mary Williams, the founder of Brake, a road safety charity, said the counterpoint is obvious: speeding is illegal and kills, and no one should be allowed to get away with it.

"There will always be segments of society who believe that a particular law infringes their 'right' - in this case their 'right' to break speed limits," she said.

Resistance to speed cameras in Britain is so fierce it appears to have rattled politicians.

It also has been much stronger than the opposition in other countries that use the devices, such as Germany and Ireland.

Debate intensified this month when the government said it was considering adding a $9 surcharge to $118 speeding tickets and other fines to help pay compensation to crime victims.

Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared to back away from the proposal last week when questioned on a radio phone-in show about why minor traffic offenders should pay compensation for the misery caused by someone else's serious crime.

"The decisions have not been taken yet, and we are obviously going to listen carefully to what people say," Blair said.

Brian Gregory, chairman of the Association of British Drivers, whose 3,000 members oppose speed cameras, described them as "an abuse of civil liberties that does nothing to improve road safety."

British roads have one of Europe's lowest accident and death rates, although an average of nine people die each day.

The first speed cameras appeared in Britain in 1992, and now about 3,500 fixed cameras are used at road locations that police and communities consider dangerous.

In 2000-2002, they helped reduce deaths and serious injuries by 35 percent in eight areas, the Department of Transport said.

Cameras to catch people running red lights or speeding are used in Arizona, California, Texas and Virginia, and have also generated fierce opposition there.

Germany, one of several European countries with cameras, introduced them in the mid-1980s with automatic fines. The cameras now are accepted as a fact of life, said Johann Nowicki of the German auto club ADAC.

In Ontario, Canada, where opponents succeeded in stopping the use of speed cameras in unmarked vans after 11 months, the current government wants to bring them back.


On the Net:

Break: http://www.brake.org.uk

Association of British Drivers: http://www.abd.org.uk

Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety: http://www.pacts.org.uk/

Piston Heads, http://www.pistonheads.com

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Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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