Speed cameras: how they work in the UK

2 weeks, 3 days ago - 4 July 2024, autocar
Speed cameras: how they work in the UK
All you need to know about the UK's increasing number of speed cameras – and the use of AI

Like them or loathe them, speed cameras are championed by their advocates as a necessary technology for keeping our roads safe. 

Also known as road safety cameras, speed cameras have been used across England, Scotland and Wales since the Road Traffic Act was implemented in 1991. 

Speed cameras have always been a controversial topic among drivers, of whom many believe they can save lives, while others deem them ineffective.

According to a survey conducted by IAM Roadsmart, some 80% of drivers thought the use of speed cameras was “acceptable or very acceptable”. 

But are they effective? A study by the RAC found that casualties dropped by 27% in areas where speed cameras were installed – although a small number of sites did see an increase in casualties of around 4%. 

A separate London School of Economics study revealed that speed cameras reduced accidents by between 17% and 39% from the years 1992 to 2016, also reducing fatalities by between 50% and 68%. 

Speed cameras are disliked by many motorists because of the fines handed out to drivers caught going over the speed limit. 

How do speed cameras work?
It might not seem obvious when you’re behind the wheel, but there are many different types of speed cameras that work in different ways. (You can see a full list of the types of speed cameras used in the UK further down the page.) 

Generally, though, speed cameras work by detecting a vehicle’s speed using radar systems, or using technology built directly into the road. 

Many cameras will produce a bright flash if you’re driving over the limit, capturing your car’s numberplate, colour, make and model. Some newer cameras will also target the driver’s face. 

Some cameras are mobile. With this tech, a police van will be positioned, just off the road, to detect speeding drivers. Other cameras, such as those found in areas with temporary speed limit adjustments, will record your average speed, and if you exceed it you will be fined. 

Where can speed cameras be found?
The UK has more than 7000 speed cameras, which led to 245,043 speeding fines issued in 2022 – a record year for offences. They can be found along any sort of road with a designated speed limit or speed restriction. 

This includes roads with limits of 20mph or 30mph in slower areas, 40mph or 50mph on slightly faster roads, and national speed limit zones such as motorways, which are usually rated at 70mph. 

Most cameras are clearly marked with signage along the road and are painted bright yellow. They are usually found just off the road and pointing in the direction of travel, while others will be positioned overhead on a gantry. 

Many mobile map apps, such as Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze, will tell you where fixed speed cameras and average speed cameras are located as you’re driving. Some apps also report the estimated position of police mobile speed cameras. 

I’ve just been caught speeding. What happens next? 
If you commit a speeding offence, your numberplate will be scanned. It will then be sent to the DVLA along with a request for the car’s registered address. 

You will then be sent a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP), along with a questionnaire to fill so it can be established who was driving at the time of the offence. 

Is there a penalty for speeding?
If you’re caught speeding, you will be fined £100 and will receive three points on your driving licence, but this can increase if your offence is particularly severe. 

You might be offered a speed awareness course, which is usually for first offenders and run by your local police force or government authority. 

Click here to find out more about speeding fines, how they work and how much you might need to pay if you’re caught. 

What are the different types of speed cameras?
There are a variety of speed-detecting technologies on British roads today – some of which you might see on your daily commute and others of which you have probably never heard of. Here are the most common.

(Remember: all speed cameras have to be coloured bright yellow by law, so there’s no excuse for missing them. Police vans are, by design, harder to spot from a distance.) 

Aecom mobile camera
Trials for the Aecom-managed mobile police camera started in 2022 but expanded in 2024. These vans use technology to take pictures of drivers that will then be analysed to prosecute those using their mobile phones at the wheel, or those not wearing a seatbelt. 

Forces using Aecom camera vans include Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, Humberside, Durham, Wiltshire, Norfolk, Thames Valley and Northamptonshire. 

Truvelo
Most commonly mounted on a pole at the side of a single or dual carriageway, the Truvelo speed camera uses a front-facing lens to record your speed, backed up by a matrix of small squares painted on the road (secondary evidence of speed is required with all fixed-position cameras). 

While images of motorcycle numberplates can be tricky to capture due to their lack of front registrations, the Truvelo can identify drivers of other vehicles, adding a further layer of evidence if a prosecution is disputed. 

More recently, a Truvelo D-Cam has been launched for motorway applications, with front- and rear-facing capabilities.

Gatso

The name that most of us are familiar with, the Gatso first graced our roads in 1991 and is a rear-facing camera, meaning that it records your vehicle after it has passed the camera unit, with two images taken in quick succession. 

Like the Truvelo, the images are supported by secondary evidence of speed provided by painted ‘dashes’ on the road surface. These dashes may be found on both sides of the road next to the camera, but the Gatso will only record your speed in the direction in which it is facing.

SPECS

SPECS (average speed check cameras and speed enforcement) units measure your speed over a set distance, via two banks of cameras. 

Most commonly found through roadworks, or where there is a lower than normal speed limit, they use automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) to identify vehicles. 

As you pass the first set of cameras, your vehicle’s details are recorded, and if your average speed before reaching the second camera is above a set threshold, a notice of intended prosecution (NIP) will be automatically generated (see below).

HADECS 3

The catchily named Highways Agency Digital Enforcement Camera System 3, or HADECS 3 for short, is most commonly found on smart motorways, mounted on the overhead gantries that carry variable speed limit alerts. 

The camera’s limited use of yellow cladding and the fact that it is a fraction of a Gatso/Truvelo’s size mean that it can be easily missed, especially if you’re travelling at 70mph. 

HADECS 3 is rear-facing, and once again it uses painted dashes on the road as secondary evidence of a vehicle’s speed. It also adapts to posted, mandatory speed limits that can vary depending on road conditions.

Long-ranger
Long-ranger cameras are the most capable form of speed enforcement from a distance, with the ability to snap drivers from as far as one kilometer away. They’re used for speed enforcement as well as mobile phone and seatbelt infringements. 

Mobile speed camera units
It’s not uncommon for the police to monitor vehicle speeds at known accident hot spots using mobile units – quite literally, vehicles with miniature Gatso cameras pointing through their rear windows. 

These are often found parked in lay-bys or above dual-carriageway or motorway bridges and have a range of up to one mile. The police also have access to handheld radar- and laser-controlled devices that can be used at a variety of locations.

AI speed cameras - Vector SR
The most modern speed cameras use artificial intelligence to prosecute drivers speeding, but also to catch them breaking other driving laws. 

Vector SR cameras, which were first installed in Greater Manchester in 2023, capture images of a vehicle from both the front and rear. Instead of using a bright flash to capture the offending driver, Vector SR cameras use infrared technology for improved use in all light conditions. 

In addition to tracking drivers’ speed, these cameras can also detect whether a driver is wearing a seatbelt or if they are using a mobile phone. 

Support Ukraine