Why West Yorkshire Police doesn't have to reveal how many cars its cameras catch speeding on the M62

The M62 is one of Britain's busiest motorways.The M62 is one of Britain's busiest motorways.
The M62 is one of Britain's busiest motorways.
West Yorkshire Police was right to refuse to release information about the number of cars caught by speed cameras on the M62, a watchdog has ruled.

The force said giving out the information could help motorists work out when the cameras were active and avoid being caught.

The Information Commissioner issued a ruling after an appeal by a complainant who asked for the information under the Freedom of Information Act.

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West Yorkshire Police revealed the number of active cameras it enforced on the M62 and their locations after a request last summer.

But it refused to reveal a breakdown of speeding offences per month, per camera, saying information was exempt if disclosing it was likely to affect “the prevention or detection of crime”.

It explained: “Disclosing the requested information would enable the public to establish when speed is being enforced at this site and therefore, when excessive speed is likely to result in a fine.

“Safety cameras are not always active and the Police rely on the perception by drivers that camera housings could be active and would therefore adjust their speed so as not to contract a fine.

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“If this information was disclosed then drivers would know when they can and cannot pass this specific site at a speed above the statutory limit. This would render the purpose of the camera site at this location obsolete.”

According to the complainant, Kent Police had provided similar information on M25 cameras, and West Yorkshire Police had released information about cameras to the local press.

The Information Commissioner’s report said West Yorkshire Police believed releasing the information “would make it possible for an unscrupulous driver to estimate, or think they could estimate, likely future enforcement patterns”.

In its report, the commissioner ruled that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing it.

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Senior case officer Carolyn Howes wrote: “The Commissioner recognises that the increased likelihood that the law would be broken as an indirect consequence of the release of the requested information is, of itself, a powerful public interest argument in favour of maintaining the law enforcement exemption.

“She further recognises that the police do not keep safety cameras permanently active because they believe that the potential risk of enforcement is as strong a deterrent as the certainty of enforcement.

“There are strong public interest arguments in supporting this policy. Chief among these is greater value for money. Administration of traffic enforcement is much cheaper using intermittent rather than permanent enforcement zones because fewer penalty notices are actually issued (each requiring administrative work).

“It also encourages voluntary compliance with the law which makes the work of the police in this area much easier and allows them to focus resources where there is greater need.”