Baydon’s volunteers take the problem of speeding traffic into their own hands

Written by Tony Millett.

With the decision last year by Wiltshire Council not to fund speed cameras, the issue of traffic speeding through the county’s villages has become more serious. Wiltshire council have started talks with the police and others to bring back mobile speed camera units.

Dick Tonge, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, told Marlborough News Online: “We are putting together a business proposal, but this must be cost neutral for the council taxpayers of Wiltshire.” There is no target date and “there is a long way to go.”

Marlborough News Online will be taking a look at how some of the area’s villages are trying to cope with and to deter speeding traffic. First, we went out on patrol with Baydon’s Community Speed Watch volunteers:

Baydon sits in Wiltshire’s far north east corner. And it sits astride the Ermin Way – a Roman road that entices drivers to travel faster than they should through the village. The Ermin Way divides Baydon – on one side are most of the houses, on the other are the village school and the recently opened children’s play area.

 It has been found that the drivers most likely to be breaking the village’s 30 MPH limit are those travelling through the village from the east – from Newbury and Lambourn. However, drivers have been found to be breaking the 30 MPH speed limit entering Baydon on all three approach roads.

 Mark Austen (on the right in this photo), who heads the Community Speed Watch (CSW) volunteer group, is especially concerned about traffic driving at speed past the entrance to the play area. The entrance to the play area is at the edge of village just a few yards after the gates, rumble strips and the new and larger 30 MPH signs put in place by the Parish Council’s traffic calming working group.

Baydon has for some years had a sign that responds to your speed with a warning; as you near the school, they’ve had flashing lights at the beginning and end of the school day; and they did not have enough pedestrians crossing Ermin Street throughout the day to warrant a pedestrian crossing. What else could they do?

A group of Baydon residents decided to apply to set up a CSW – a police sponsored scheme. To make sure Baydon qualified the police did an audit of speeds along Ermin Street – one of those impact pads across the road attached to a recording box (also known as a Metrocount.)

This audit in May 2010 showed 78 per cent of vehicles crossing the pad were speeding – about two thousand a day. Of these nearly half were doing 36 MPH or more – and that’s the speed at which police will prosecute. If Mr Tonge wanted an income flow, he could have had over one thousand speeding fines on an average day.

In response to those figures Baydon put up white gates and rumble strips on the road to impress on drivers that they were entering a village. Then, after training, Baydon CSW started operation at the end of February 2011. They have eighteen volunteers and currently are fortunate to have sole use of a speed checking device.

These devices – sometimes rather recklessly known as ‘speed guns’ – cost £2,000 each and need annual servicing and re-calibration. They have a range of seven hundred metres and can record the speed of an advancing and a departing vehicle. The speed shows up in the eye piece and shows on the external display panel until the next vehicle is checked.

The volunteers do get a certain amount of disapproving looks and shouts, and the occasional rude hand or finger signal. Some motorists think they are having a photo taken and complain loudly. But when told the devices only record speed they tend not to mind being checked.

It is not at all like collecting engine numbers on a station platform. On a damp and rather chilly July morning, I watched a team of three volunteers recording speeds on Baydon’s Ermin Street from 7.30-8.30. (Pictured left to right: John Cockcroft, Mark Austen and Alison Bocock.)  When a vehicle is registered as speeding, that is travelling at or above 36 MPH, the volunteers have to note its registration number, make and model, colour, direction of travel and time.

 The all important question? What happens to those logged as speeding? First time they get a letter from the police. Second time they get a much sterner letter. And the third time they attract the direct attention of the police. But a prosecution cannot be based on data collected by the volunteers.

 And be warned: CSW information is kept centrally at Wiltshire police headquarters. So your ‘third time’ could have been logged by any one of the forty-seven active CSW schemes across the county.

And, of course, there’s the important deterrent effect of the CSW signs and the random appearance of the CSW teams.

The morning I watched one of Baydon’s teams at work, 114 vehicles passed us and twelve were logged at or over 36 MPH. One Friday evening session (5.30-6.30 pm) earlier this month logged forty-four speeders in an hour – the fastest was travelling at 51 MPH and two at 50 MPH. They were coming into Baydon from the Lambourn/Newbury direction and driving right past the children’s play area. The top speed recorded so far is 58 MPH.

The police have strict rules for the way CSW’s operate. Teams must be visible to traffic and can only use roadside places approved by the police. The police have to be warned well before a monitoring session takes place. And volunteers are told to walk away if a motorist gets angry with them.

When Baydon’s population of about 560 people was consulted for the parish plan, the speed of traffic was deemed to be by far the most serious problem facing the village. The volunteers of the CSW believe they are making a real difference and hope their statistics will encourage Wiltshire Council and the police to do more to make their village safe from passing traffic.