17 March 2015

S4M-12163 Average Speed Cameras on the A9

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12163, in the name of Mike MacKenzie, on average-speed cameras on the A9. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the recently published performance data regarding the average speed cameras on the A9, which suggests that, since the cameras were introduced, the number of drivers speeding has reduced from around one in three to one in 20 and that examples of excessive speeding are down by 97%; understands that there is no evidence of drivers taking diversions or using so-called rat runs to avoid the cameras; believes that their introduction has resulted in an increase in journey time reliability to and from Inverness, and considers that both the cameras and the HGV speed limit pilot on the A9, which have been put in place ahead of the dualling of the road, have been a success and have led to more responsible and safer motoring.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Mike MacKenzie for the opportunity to debate this important subject. I declare an interest, in that I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I also declare that I had no hand whatsoever, that I am aware of, in building the A9, although when I was a transport minister, I was involved in the relocating of 41 colonies of wood ants as a result of a small improvement. They are doing very well, by the way.

Have safety cameras that measure average speeds changed behaviours and reduced lawbreaking? The answer, with the benefit of a few months’ experience, has to be yes. Have accidents and the numbers killed and seriously injured been reduced? Again, conditionally and provisionally, the answer is yes.

We need to think about what people who say that we should not have average-speed cameras are actually saying. They are saying that, although we have a law that sets the speed limit, we do not want to enforce that law. Why are we choosing not to enforce that law, among all other laws? Because it is a matter of personal convenience and arrogance on the part of those who wish permission, unsupervised and unenforced, to break one of our laws. If the law is wrong—one could argue that it is and that the speed limit is not the right one—there is a way to deal with that. However, putting other people’s lives at risk while doing that is not on—not in any way whatsoever.

I very much welcome the improvements that we are seeing in the layout and engineering of the A9, and the dualling of the road all the way to Inverness will be of great benefit. In the distant past, I lived in Fife and had a girlfriend who lived in Inverness, and members can be absolutely sure that I was familiar with the road. My family used to travel from Fife to Sutherland for our summer holidays every year for many years. That used to be a 12-hour journey, on the previous incarnation of the A9.

Today’s A9 is different from the one before, and the next generation will be different again. However, we will not engineer out all the accidents and issues on the A9 by dualling it. Parliamentary answers to Murdo Fraser show that, in every year about which he asked questions, the M8—which is a motorway and a dual carriageway—had a higher rate of accidents per kilometre than the A9.

We do not find ourselves addressing just engineering. I absolutely support Dave Stewart’s efforts, which focus on driver education and graduated driving licences. Members will have heard before that I am a private pilot. In flying, people do not simply pass their test and get the right to go off and do everything—it does not happen that way. They cannot fly at night, fly out of sight of the ground or fly in clouds. They cannot fly multi-engine planes, planes with retractable undercarriage or planes with variable pitch prop. If people want to do those things, they have to learn and acquire the skill and get the endorsement that they have done the needful. When we pass a test, be it as a pilot or a driver, we do not suddenly and magically acquire the experience that will enable us to cope with everything that we will meet during our career in charge of a vehicle; that has to be learned.

We have to look at whether there are ways in which we can sensibly help people to make progress safely. I do not speak for my party on the matter, but I very much support the idea that we should have graduated training. I accept that that affects young people in particular, and in rural areas—such as I represent—there are particular challenges, because the car is an important transport vehicle for young people. However, we can do it and I think that we have to look at it further.

Frustration, on the A9 or any other road, is never an excuse for creating an accident or the possibility of an accident. We cannot imagine just that engineering solves the problem; we have to look at the drivers as well. We do not have all the powers to do that, but I hope that there will be willingness from elsewhere to help on that.


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