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Vandals will not divert our shared commitment to safer roads

For years the residents of Perranarworthal campaigned for something to be done about speeding on a stretch of road which had become notorious for serious and fatal collisions.

Vandals will not divert our shared commitment to safer roads

The village is one of hundreds across Devon and Cornwall to set up a Community Speedwatch scheme, which provides police support and training for residents so they can monitor dangerous driving and identify repeat offenders.

Drivers who think that these volunteers have no ability to enforce speeding can be in for a nasty shock, as in Devon and Cornwall they are routinely supported by road traffic officers with full powers to ticket and arrest.

The groups also collect vast amounts of data which can be used to convince other agencies that further steps are required. And that is exactly what happened in this tight-knit community.

Speed cameras – or safety cameras to give them their proper name – are not always the right answer to tackle people who drive too fast. Cornwall Council, part of the Vision Zero road safety partnership which is trying to drastically reduce casualties across Devon and Cornwall, tried introducing pedestrian islands and other features at Perranarworthal to make it clear drivers were entering a residential area.

The Speedwatch group were able to prove that speed continued to be a problem, and earlier this year Cornwall Council agreed to install average speed cameras.

These systems have been instrumental in lowering speeds because drivers cannot cheat them by slamming on the brakes at the last minute.

Perhaps because they work so well, these cameras are not popular with those who choose to flout the law and put lives at risk. On Friday (Oct 6) residents found that vandals had cut through the poles which hold the cameras up, causing significant damage to them.

This criminal act will be a minor setback. The cameras will be repaired and will be back in action before long. Police are investigating the vandalism, but regardless of whether the culprits are found and brought to book, I would ask those responsible to reflect on the words of Councillor Peter Williams, the local authority member representing that community, who told local media after the incident: “I have seen people die. When you see people die through accidents it makes you think you've got to do something about it.”

There are still far too many lives ruined by dangerous driving here in Devon and Cornwall, and far too much evidence of it. At the weekend police stopped several high-end vehicles, including Porsches and Range Rovers, apparently street racing at double the speed limit in south Devon.

And for those car enthusiasts who say that driving at high speeds is not the cause of collisions, that is simply not true. Speeding carries with it a greater risk of losing car control, and increases the likelihood and severity of accidents when they occur. That is why it is one of the ‘fatal five’ behaviours which cause the majority of collisions, with the others being drink/drug driving, not wearing a seatbelt, distraction and careless driving.

We will all have to get used to lower speed limits, especially in residential areas where 20mph zones will be increasingly more common. In fact, Devon County Council is in the process of introducing these in several towns and villages. There is a wealth of evidence behind this decision but all you have to do is ask yourself whether you would rather be struck by a vehicle at 20mph or 30mph to know it is the right thing to do.

And for those who hate safety cameras I have some bad news for you. More of the bi-directional ones, which cover both carriageways of a road, will be rolled out soon. Last year 48 people were killed and 738 people were seriously injured on Devon and Cornwall’s roads. I start all Vision Zero meetings by reading out the names of those killed since our last meeting. It is a sobering moment which reminds us of our commitment to our communities.

I make no apology for the fact that the cameras will keep coming until that list is a thing of the past.