Speed camera officer busts myths and shares secrets on how to avoid getting caught

By Ian Mangan & Kelly-Ann Mills

A man who sits inside a speed camera van has spoken out to bust the myths behind the job.

While laws on Irish roads differ slightly to those in the UK, both countries use speed cameras on their roads.

Safety cameras are permitted to operate on 1,322 stretches of road around Ireland.

The vans are all located on roads where there has been a speed-related collision involving an injury or fatality.

They are operated by GoSafe both in the UK and Ireland using vans marked with high-visibility reflective material and displaying a safety camera symbol.

Now one of those workers has lifted the lid on some of the biggest speed camera myths that are out there.

Gareth Thomas, a speed reduction officer for the last seven years and former police officer, wanted to set the record straight on the things we actually "know" about speed cameras.

Speaking to North Wales Live, Gareth, a Go Safe Casualty Reduction Officer, has explained how speed cameras work, the truth behind some of the most popular myths and claims - and how you can avoid being caught speeding.

He said: "I decided after retiring that I wanted to make the roads as safe as they can be in this area.

"The aim of cameras is to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads.

"Go Safe prefers to educate drivers rather than punish them with fines and penalty points."

Is it true that speed vans have to be visible at all times?

No. There are no laws about visibility, so there is nothing stopping an officer operating in the dark.

But they don't often choose to do this, and maintain that being visible acts as a deterrent in its own right.

Gareth, said: "Legally, we don't have to be visible. I could camouflage myself if I wanted to - but it's all about being fair, education and preventing an accident.

"Even if I parked my van and went for a walk somewhere, it would deter people speeding right away."

Can officers only catch motorists travelling in one direction?

No. Any car that passes a van is recorded on the officer's camera.

So if you're exceeding the speed limit whether you're driving in the same or opposite direction to the van, you can expect a speeding ticket.

It is true that the 10 per cent rule exists?

Yes. You will not get a ticket provided your speed does not exceed the limit by more than 10 per cent.

So for example, travelling at 35mph or above in a 30mph zone will be recorded as a speeding offence.

However, Go Safe say thresholds vary and can change without notice. Officially, any speeding offence occurs at 1mph above the limit, but most forces will allow a variance.

Are officers a revenue collector for the Government?

No. Gareth, explained: "We're not here to get figures or to make money. We're just here to catch the people who are speeding.

"If I get a day where I don't get any drivers speeding, then I know I've done my job.

"If I've been working an eight hour shift, I just hope at least one person that day has escaped injury or a crash has been avoided."

Can I get caught speeding more than once on the same day by the same camera?

The current position with this particular operator is that if you are caught twice in 20 minutes, it will be treated as one offence.

In theory, a driver with a previously clean licence could be caught several times on the same day - and as a result be at risk of disqualification under the totting-up system.

If you are caught speeding several times on the same journey and accept a fixed penalty for each, you could be at risk of a penalty points disqualification (totting-up).

Gareth says it can happen more easily than you might think, for example where several speed cameras are placed on the same road or motorway.

However, where offences are deemed to have been committed "on the same occasion", the court has discretion to impose only the one set of points for two or more offences.

Whether or not offences will be treated as committed on the same occasion is a matter for the court to decide.

They need not have been committed simultaneously, but they must be linked in some way.

So if for example the offences were committed within a few minutes of each other, it may be possible to persuade the court to impose only one set of points. Every case will depend on its facts.

Is it illegal to obstruct a vans view of the road?

Yes. Obstructing a van's field of view during its operational duties is an offence and you can be prosecuted for it.

Do officers enforce anything other than speeding?

Yes. Officers are there to make sure you are wearing a seatbelt and are not using your mobile phones behind the wheel. Anyone caught breaking these laws will be prosecuted.

However, where offences are deemed to have been committed "on the same occasion", the court has discretion to impose only the one set of points for two or more offences.

Whether or not offences will be treated as committed on the same occasion is a matter for the court to decide.

They need not have been committed simultaneously, but they must be linked in some way.

So if for example the offences were committed within a few minutes of each other, it may be possible to persuade the court to impose only one set of points. Every case will depend on its facts.

Is it illegal to obstruct a vans view of the road?

Yes. Obstructing a van's field of view during its operational duties is an offence and you can be prosecuted for it.

Do officers enforce anything other than speeding?

Yes. Officers are there to make sure you are wearing a seatbelt and are not using your mobile phones behind the wheel. Anyone caught breaking these laws will be prosecuted.

Is it illegal to eat behind the wheel?

No, it's not. However, if you get distracted while snacking behind the wheel, the police could prosecute you for careless driving.

Gareth, said: "It is endorsable. I had one lady in view once and she was looking in the mirror and putting lipstick on.

"She was riding on the cats eyes in the centre of the road and veering. I recommended that she was prosecuted for driving without due care and attention."

Is it illegal to flash your headlights to alert motorists of a speed van?

If drivers choose to flash to warn others about a speed van, they could be in breach of the law.

Under section 89 of the Police Act 1997 it is an offence to "wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of his/her duty".

However, Gareth says while it is an offence, it is very difficult to prove.

He said: "It doesn't bother me that people flash to warn them of the speed van - I just want to educate people and the van to act as a speed deterrent."

How long do speed vans tend to stay at one particular spot?

For technical reasons, a speed van will only remain in a certain spot for 90 minutes, Gareth said.

During his average eight hour shift, he will normally visit three different spots across the region where he has been ordered to visit.

Enforcement is usually carried out in certain areas for a number of reasons, including: Death or serious injury has occurred at the location, speeds in the area have been recorded as significantly high and speeding concerns have been raised by residents and those concerns have been corroborated by a traffic speed survey.

What happens if I am caught speeding?

It all comes down to the circumstances within which you were caught speeding, and how much you were in excess of the limit.

The minimum penalty for being caught speeding on the UK's roads is a £100 fine.

But Gareth explained in some circumstances, police can offer the option of attending a speed awareness course - an alternative to a fine and penalty points.

Gareth, said: "An accredited course is far more likely to improve driver behaviour and consequently make our roads safer.

"Courses are available to drivers who respond quickly to the 'notices' and who were driving at no more than 10 per cent, plus 9 mph above the posted speed limit."

So for example, anyone travelling over 86mph on a motorway would not be offered the awareness course.

Those who don't have a clean licence at the time of the office, or if you have been on the course in the last three years, it is unlikely you will be offered the awareness course as an option.

Irish speed cameras

Gardaí use a range of speed detection technology to reduce speed across Irish roads.

They say a reduction in speed will lead to an increase of lives being saved, less serious accidents and will improve road safety.

The only way to avoid triggering the camera is to stick within the speed limit.

When are speed checks more likely?

Generally, there are more speed checks at weekends than on weekdays and more speed checks between midnight and 03.00 than at other times.

What are common speed camera myths?

Drivers have been asked to ignore dangerous common myths at how people can trick speed cameras.

A false myth is that "If you drive really fast, you won’t trigger the camera".

This is completely wrong and the only way to avoid triggering the camera is to stick within the speed limit.

The AA said: "You shouldn't be trying to avoid getting caught. It's safer for everyone to stick to the limits - and the law - by not speeding in the first place."

Another of the common myths the AA identified was the belief that you could fool the speed calculations on an average speed camera network by changing lanes.

The AA in the UK said: "While older speed cameras could’ve been ‘tricked’, more advanced cameras now use multiple sets of cameras at each point to track all the lanes and compare average speeds."

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