If you’ve been flashed by a speed camera out on the road, it’s more than likely it will have been a Gatso camera because these are by far the most common type of camera currently in operation around the UK. Seeing that flash is often a cause for despair, which is why understanding how these cameras work can be so useful. Knowing what activates the cameras will help you to control your speed and avoid any unnecessary points or financial penalties.
First, though, what does ‘Gatso’ stand for? Unlike most things, it’s not some complicated, technical anagram that’s been condensed into weird and wonderful shorthand. In fact, it’s short for Gatsometer BV, a Dutch company that has made and supplied these cameras for over 50 years. The cameras are a familiar sight to most motorists, who’ll recognise the distinctive yellow boxes with a square hole for the camera lens. While they may come to be superseded by other, more advanced models, currently there are approximately 7,000 dotted around UK roads. So keep your eyes peeled.
The cameras work by projecting a radar beam onto passing vehicles which picks up on excess speed and activates the camera. The camera will then take two pictures, 0.7 seconds apart. The first will be a conventional picture, while the second will be infra-red which is used to see through any dirt or anything else obscuring the registration plate. Because the flash of the camera is disorienting and potentially unsafe for the driver, these cameras usually only snap you as you are driving away from them. However, you may find yourself snapped head on as a result of a speeding car on the other side of the road.
The camera determines the speed of your vehicle by looking at small white lines that have been painted on the road in the designated ‘speed trap’ area. The distance between these lines denotes a certain number of miles per hour, typically 5mph. The camera counts the number of lines passed between the two photographs to produce solid evidence of the speed at which you were travelling. Therefore, if the camera snaps you passing through seven 5mph lines in a 30mph zone, you’ll be shown to have speeded.
Modern speed cameras automatically determine your speed and send out a fine whereas images sent by older cameras are checked by staff at a central processing plant. While both methods are usually reliable, the modern, automatic cameras are more susceptible to errors. If you receive a fine for speeding that you don’t think is justified, it may be worth analysing the photos yourself to see if you can realistically contest the charge. The photos should be sent out with the fine, so if you haven’t received them, make sure you obtain copies. Also, it’s important to note that you must receive the penalty notice within 14 days of the incident for it to be valid, although there may be exceptions in cases where ascertaining the identity of the driver is more difficult, such as when a company car is being driven.