MOTORISTS MAKING U-TURN ON SPEEDING FINES
On a murky afternoon in early August, Giles Jones, a delivery driver for a small electrical retailer in Bangor, was on his rounds. “I only had 3 deliveries to make that day,” says the 25 year old, “so I was in no hurry”. He made deliveries to Caernarfon, Rachub and Bethesda. “It was a simple round and I wasn’t expecting any trouble along the way”. Unfortunately for Mr Jones, also a guitarist in the local band Silhouette, trouble was looking directly at him.
As he drove along the A5 from Bethesda back to Bangor, he was being watched. “The speed restriction in that area was 40mph, has been for as long as I can remember” says Mr Jones, who drives his employer’s white Astra van. “I drive along that road at least 6 times a day, every day, so I wasn’t expecting anything unusual to happen.” As far as he was concerned “nothing did happen! I had a really good days work and went home quite content.” It would be almost two weeks later that he discovered he had apparently broken the law.
“I got a letter through the post demanding money. I had been photographed speeding at 35mph in a zone that I had known to be a 40mph limit!” Perplexed, he later discovered that this crime had become a pandemic. “Before I knew it everyone had been fined for driving along this road. My mum, my neighbour, my best friend, three of my friend’s relatives, even my boss had become an apparent criminal.”
The fines had been issued as a result of a change in speed restrictions. The local authorities had decided to change the speed limit of the A5 road just outside the Maesgeirchen estate from 40mph to 30mph. “Between January 1999 and December 2001 61 people were injured or killed on this route” says Essi Ahari, Project Manager of Arrive Alive.
“The main aim of our organisation is to make the roads of North Wales safer by encouraging people to keep within the speed limits, reducing collisions and, consequently, reducing the number of people killed and injured”. They do this by strategically placing marked mobile camera vans at specific points on specific dates. “All these routes are signed, detection vans are highly visible and mobile camera locations are publicised on a weekly basis via the local media”.
But motorists have said they don’t have a problem with a change in speed restrictions. They argue that they are unhappy with the way the changes were enforced. “I was unaware of any changes to the speed limit” claims Gareth Roberts, a transport officer for Countryside Council Wales, “I don’t see how they can fine me!” Giles Jones has similar sentiments “If I had more of a warning then I would have driven at the correct speed, but I don’t read the local press every week so I couldn’t have known”.
Ahari argues that “signs were clearly placed to tell motorists of the speed restrictions in effect”, but this has since generated even more questions than resolutions regarding the fines.
SIGNS OF TROUBLE
SIGNS OF TROUBLE
The various motorists charged with these fines have formed a collective under the guidance of community watch group Dyna Ddigon. A meeting was held at St Mary’s Church in Bangor in January, and nearly a hundred people turned up. "On the day I was caught I saw the Arrive Alive speed camera van and I checked to make sure I was within the 40mph because I didn't know it had been reduced” said meeting organiser, Vivian Williams. “The change in the speed limit happened virtually overnight and many people didn't know about it." Mr Williams had been caught speeding at 38mph.
Following the protest meeting a small group of disgruntled motorists wrote a letter complaining about the fines, and then sought legal advice.
“The new signs were erected at the end of July 2006 and drivers were photographed and consequently fined from this date onwards” states Mr Williams, “but the Traffic Management Order did not legally come into force until 18th August. So legally the area was still a 40mph zone”. To further complicate the issue Gwynedd Council have denied that such an order is required, while the Welsh Assembly says that it is.
Essi Ahari insists that Arrive Alive followed all the correct procedures and stresses that “all the proposed changes were published in the local press from January 2006, along with notices at the roadside”. A Gwynedd Council spokesman added in The Mail newspaper that “the implementation of the 30mph zone was done by virtue of street lighting.” He claimed that under the Road Traffic Regulations Act of 1984 “the fact that a street lighting system is in place with lamps placed no more than 200 yards apart restricts the road to a 30mph limit unless it is de-restricted by Order of the Traffic Authority under section 822”.
Gareth Roberts eventually decided to pursue the matter individually through the courts. “How can they fine me when the speed limit hadn’t even been changed?” asked Mr Roberts, who pleaded not guilty at Caernarfon magistrate court on the fifth of February. The case was later adjourned until 7th March. Solicitor Ray Woodward, who is representing several of the people making an appeal, commented that “If one fine is overturned then the others should follow”.
This would be good news for Giles Jones. “I’m on minimum wage” admits the driver, “so a £60 fine would mean that it cost me MORE to go to work that day than I earned!” He also voiced concern that “having 3 points on my license could put off potential employers in future, considering that I drive for a living!”
His case, along with several others, will resume on Wednesday. There have been no deaths along the A5 area in dispute since Arrive Alive initiated the new restriction.