Stealth Speed Cameras

According to the BBC, Humberside police have recently been catching speeding motorists from within an unmarked stationary tractor.[1]  ‘Operation Kansas’ is aimed at targeting high-speed offenders on Yorkshire’s rural roads, however well-travelled readers will have noticed that the Humberside police tractor is not the only instance of stealth being used as a part of an authority’s speed enforcement strategy: the introduction of ‘smart motorways’ with variable speed limits, as we have seen on the M62 near Leeds and the M1 north of Leicester, have brought with them their own breed of stealthy speed cameras.  Painted grey, and typically positioned behind the illuminated variable speed signage, these cameras have also been catching speeding motorists whilst remaining almost invisible until it is too late.


Questions have been raised as to the legality of using unmarked vehicles and hidden cameras for speed enforcement.  Predictably, the legal position is unclear.

Guidance issued by the Department for Transport in 2007[2] states that fixed speed cameras must be (1) coloured yellow if located within an area of street or highway lighting; or (2) treated with yellow-reflective sheeting if located in an unlit area.  The same document also states that mobile enforcement vehicles must be “liveried and clearly identifiable as an enforcement vehicle”, and that enforcement officers must wear high visibility clothing if undertaking enforcement away from the vehicle.  The camera (whether fixed or mobile) must be clearly visible from 60 metres where the speed limit is 40 or less, or 100 metres at all other speed limits.

This looks fairly clear, and you would be forgiven for thinking that it is “case closed” at this stage, and that tickets issued from hidden stealth cameras can simply be torn up.  However, the issue is that this is merely guidance.  Indeed, the document itself states that the guidance has “no bearing on the enforcement of offences” and that non-compliance does not provide a defence for an allegation of speeding.  Although speed limits must be clearly signposted, meaning that it is possible to escape conviction if they are not, on the face of it there are no strict legal requirements (ie. statutes or regulations) requiring speed cameras to be visible.

However, it is unclear whether this evidence will be admissible in court 100% of the time.  There are very strict rules of court which control what evidence can and cannot be raised by the prosecution against a defendant, and it is possible to apply for certain pieces of evidence to be excluded under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 if they are unfairly prejudicial to someone accused of a crime.  Whether evidence is excluded is a discretionary matter for the judge to decide, however if there is a serious breach of procedure then there is a good chance that evidence acquired as a result of non-compliance will not be allowed into court.

Whilst the guidance issued by the Department for Transport does not operate as a strict legal defence, choosing not to follow it and then prosecuting someone for speeding as a consequence may be sufficient grounds on which to apply for the exclusion of evidence under PACE.  If you have been accused of speeding as a result of a stealth speed camera, please get in touch for legal advice: there is a chance that you could escape a conviction.


The contents of this article should not be relied upon in isolation.  Each case is fact specific and this article should not be treated as legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice. 



[2] Department for Transport, ‘Use of Speed and Red-Light Cameras for Traffic Enforcement: Guidance on Deployment, Visibility and Signing’ (DfT Circular 01/2007)

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