SPEED CAMERAS SHOULD MAKE US WARY OF MORE SURVEILLANCE

Well, it’s not a great photo but there is no doubt it is my car and I was in Plymouth at the time.

And I do remember finding myself trapped in a bus lane, trying to find my way out of a city I last drove around 40 years ago.

So that’s another £30 to pay – if I settle straight away – on top of the £100 I got fined for driving at 40 mph in a 30 mph zone near Okehampton.

No doubt the insurance company will add its own penalty when it hears about the latest three points on my licence. I’ve got a record as long as your arm, now, for driving like Granny Mouse. First there was a conviction for 36 mph on an empty road in Leeds at midnight. I made the mistake of asking for clemency and was ordered, for my cheek, to pay twice the standard fine, plus court costs, as well as getting my first three penalty points. Then I was photographed at 38 mph, while slowing down on a slip off a city ring road. That time, I settled for the offer of a speed awareness course, costing a mere £75.

Then Sheffield extracted £10 a second for a brief drift into a bus lane as my satnav and I tried to escape a vicious circle we had already been around three times.

I would be less resentful if I had done something flashily reckless but I drive like the old fella I am. If the police had stopped me for any of the above offences, I am pretty sure I would have got off with a caution. But a camera has no discretion. And the camera feeds into a system that does not want to know anything about me except how I am going to pay.

There cannot be many regular drivers left who do not have similar stories. In the past, I have tried to find out how much traffic cameras have cost all motorists. All the agencies which might have had the figure had made a point of not working it out. No doubt it is an embarrassingly large one.

But now I think there is a more important political principle at stake than backdoor taxation. There is pressure to hang cameras around the necks and on the walls of police officers, slaughtermen, care workers and … well, possibly you. Once video surveillance is established as a fair deterrent to wrongful behaviour, who can argue they should be exempt?

It would work, in its way. I now drive through 30-mph zones like a pig in a sausage factory. Policemen could be made politer and nurses more patient by the same process. But is it how we really want to improve human behaviour?

I doubt I am a safer motorist because of having felt the stick across my knuckles. I am more wary of the cameras but probably not of anything else. And I am definitely a less happy and co-operative citizen.

Speed limits make sense on the whole. But they are not written by God. Some fallible civil servant has decided where they start and where they stop, on the basis of average experience. In between, there may well be stretches and times where 30 mph is illogically slow. It is simply not fair, and not good for national happiness, to enforce the law through a system of trip wires.

In theory, we are all against hurting old ladies. But old ladies can be nasty. Suppose one of them pinched your arm where the camera did not see and you slapped her hand while it was looking. Would that picture lie? Arguably not, but you would feel it had not told the whole truth.

Gratuitous cruelty in abattoirs generally arises, it is my impression, from the frustration of people working long hours at a horrible job for low wages. Closed-circuit tv might catch the odd bastard. But it would be better for the animals, and for the workers, to slow down the throughput (possibly by insisting on some halal-style respect for the act of slaughter?) and to improve the wages (ideally to the point where jobs can be shared).

This would be more expensive than surveillance, of course. And it would be practically possible only along with import controls – which is a good example of why new free-trade Labour can never do anything much for the working classes.

As for the police, well, would you want to go into a riot wired for sound and video?

The public are quite cunning enough to provoke or manufacture victim situations for the camera. The police are quite devious enough to save their grievances for offline revenge.

Apart from the risk of making everything worse rather than better, we should ask ourselves if more surveillance, more tick-box judgement, is really the way we want to do business with the people we hire for our dirty work.

If you ever wish for a return to a world where you had to be caught to be guilty, why wish more cameras on others?

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