Mobile speed cameras: The guy inside the van gives us the lowdown

How many times have you ridden past a speed camera van and felt like sticking two fingers up as you pass?

The next time you do, keep those fingers gripping the ‘bars, as the camera operator inside is firmly within his rights to issue you with a £100 fine – because you are not in proper control of the vehicle. And it’s happened in the past.

Fixed camera catches a bit of naughtiness. It could lead to a fine.
Fixed camera catches a bit of naughtiness. It could lead to a fine.

We know this because Jeff, one of the safety camera operators inside those vans, has given us the inside track on these mobile money pits.

Jeff isn’t his real name. We’ve had to disguise him because strictly speaking he’s not supposed to talk to us.

But he’s a fellow biker. He wants to see fewer bikers get points on their licences and he believes the vans play an important role in road safety, so he’s agreed to help us dispel a few myths around their use.

Like the idea that all cameras must be painted yellow. “That’s only an agreement, not mandatory,” says Jeff.

“Signage is no longer a legal requirement either.”

And there’s no law that says his vehicle has to be highly visible, although most Safety Camera Partnership vehicles are clearly marked as police vehicles.

Bikes do get caught

“It’s a myth that, because most bikes only have identifying plates on the rear, they don’t get caught. Mobile vans have both rear and forward facing cameras. I’ll be recording you from the front camera as you fly past.”

Your registration number will be recorded as you pass too.
You’ll be recorded as you pass too, to get your reg no.

Jeff also has some advice at the end of the article on the use of dodgy plates…

Like many of the operators, Jeff is a former police traffic officer. In his career, he saw many of the grim results of accidents caused by speeding.

Often these accidents involved motorcyclists on ridiculously powerful performance bikes. But it’s not the bikes that are the problem. It’s the rider’s attitude.

“I have a fast bike and a performance car. I don’t hang around. But there’s a time and a place and if you are speeding past a fixed or mobile camera unit, you’re in the wrong place.”

BTW, it’s a myth that the operator in the van has to be a serving officer. Speed enforcement can be carried out by both police officers and civillian police staff.


Safety first

Let’s get the terminology right first. The world and his mum call them speed cameras, but inside the forces they are known as Safety Cameras.

We should acknowledge this as road users, because a camera only appears in locations that have a bad accident record.

Fixed cameras are used in locations where three or more people have been killed or seriously injured in speed-related crashes, over a 1.5km stretch of road, in the three years prior to installation.

Black and white camera signs tell you that both fixed and mobile cameras are operating. The vans can be located anywhere in that area, not just near that stretch of road.

Reduce your motorcycle insurance premium

The vans operate where at least one person has been killed or seriously injured in a speed-related crash/es, over a 5km stretch of road.

“The locations where vans are used are published on each Safety Partnership’s website,” says Jeff.

“But not all of them tell you if the site is actually in use on that day. I’m only given my locations at the beginning of each shift.

“Generally, a van will be parked at a location for an hour only. You sometimes get a smartarse who’ll park in front of you to ‘eat his sandwiches’.

“If I’m at the beginning of the time slot at that location, I’ll get out of the van and tell them about the possibility of being £100 lighter if they don’t finish their sandwich a bit sharpish.

“If it’s towards the end of the slot, I’ll just move on to the next one. I don’t need the agro.”

If it’s an officer in the van and you really start messing them about, you’re open to being slapped with Obstructing an Officer, an arrestable offence.

Don’t be a dick and point out the van is parked on a double yellow, either. The vans are police vehicles that carry special exemptions from parking restrictions.


Not just speeding

The vans don’t just record speeding misdemeanours. “We are now required to record the use of mobile phones, and in the case of cars, when seat belts are not being used.”

But speeding is the focus, according to Jeff. “The van locations are more likely to be in 30mph locations, where there may be pedestrians, than on dual carriageways which don’t really see any foot traffic.”

Despite our belief that cameras are a money-grabbing exercise by the local plod, Jeff says otherwise: “All the revenue from fines goes directly back to the Safety Camera Partnership, to fund new cameras that will reduce the impact of speeding.”

There is one ‘myth’ that is actually true. “If you don’t receive the Fixed Penalty Notice with 14 days then, strictly speaking, you’ve been a lucky biker and you don’t have to accept the fine.”

But don’t ride your luck… “In the Safety Camera Partnership teams there are lots of stories about riders and cars who disguise their plates, have them on dodgy angles, use reflective finishes and so on.

“Remember, most of the guys are either serving or former officers and they know how to follow you across a county or city using CCTV. It’s very easy if you have a distinctive lid or bike. If you try it on too many times, you can expect to get a knock on the door. I’ve done it.”

Get yourself sorted:

Use your brain. Accidents happen when speed interferes with another contributing factor, like a junction, hidden dip, blind bend or when ‘nationals’ reduce to ‘30’s’ in a village. Ride to the conditions, pay attention to the road signs.

And don’t be like this dick:



Previous post

London’s new ULEZ charges for motorcycles

Next post

True Biker: Nick Sanders, round-the-world record breaker

The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He's 'down' to three bikes at the moment:

'97 Triumph Daytona T595
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'13 Triumph Speed Triple R

He's not even a huge Triumph fan, it just turns out that's how the stable is filled at the moment.

Having been on every continent except Antartica (as long as Cuba kind-of qualifies as South America) he is a big fan of travelling. However, to his deep but hopefully not eternal shame, he's only ever explored Europe on two-wheels and only started doing this a few years ago.

His main mission now is to explore as much of the world on two wheels as possible, at the same time as trying out as many new motorcycling experiences as he can and go on to inspire other bikers to do the same.