Speed cameras, safety cameras, speed guns, camera vans – call them what you will. They are there to provide a disincentive and punishment for those motorists who break the speed limit. The aim is to save lives, and managing speed is seen as the principal means by which to reduce road accidents and fatalities. Are they a new technology of libertarian paternalism? A new breed of speed cameras called ‘speed activated signs’ aims to ‘help drivers choose appropriate speeds’ (DfT, 2000). These cameras reflect back to you how fast you are going, so that you (and the drivers behind you) can reconsider how fast you want to be driving. ‘Do you really want to be going that fast?’ ‘Do you want everyone else to know that you’re breaking the limit?’
This soft paternalist intervention is not immediately punitive or harsh, but is part of a wider initiative to change public attitudes to speeding, and to dispel some of the myths surrounding speeding, which are key to the Department for Transport’s road safety strategy. Knowing that drivers are well-aware of the risks of speeding, potential fines and legal penalties, the task for the government of speed on the roads is to try to understand and intervene in people’s perceptions and motivations for speeding. Encouraging slower speeds through canny urban design, hazard warnings and traffic calming are one way of shaping the way in which people drive. Another is the promotion of ‘smoother, more careful and less aggressive driving styles’, and rehabilitation courses for errant drivers who have been caught speeding.
Changing our relationship to cars is of course part of a wider set of strategies and initiatives prompting more environmental behaviours. In this case, rather than protecting you directly from harm, speed activated signs seek to help you to protect yourself and others by encouraging you to slow down and think (or think and slow down).