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20 Oct 2016
Jamie Gibbs Jamie Gibbs

Traffic cameras - what they do and how to spot them


These are the cameras that keep a watchful eye on you while you’re on the road.

digital speed camera

Everyone knows about speed cameras, and whether you’re for them or against them, the fact is they’re not going anywhere.

But what about the other cameras that dot our roads? What are they for?

Here’s all you need to know about what these traffic cameras do and what they look like.

Speed cameras

Those big yellow boxes may be the bane of your life, but they’re there for your safety.

Unsurprisingly, these cameras monitor the speed of cars and take photos of those that break the limit.

There are two main types of speed camera – fixed and mobile. Fixed cameras are usually placed on accident hotspots and can be detected by many sat nav systems.

Mobile speed cameras are used by police and can be detected by certain sat navs and radar detectors.

As of October 2016, all working fixed speed cameras have to be painted yellow to maximise visibility. This was in response to disgruntled motorists that claimed speed cameras were obscured as a way of getting more revenue from fines.



I’ve always been clear that cameras should be visible and get used for safety rather than revenue raising. This move is about applying common sense to our roads.

Speed cameras should make journeys safer rather than lead to dangerous braking."


default-avatar Patrick McLoughlin Former Transport Secretary

Getting caught out by one of these could land you with points on your licence and a fine. If you’re lucky, you may be able to dodge this by going on a speed awareness course.

Here are some of the most common speed cameras:


GATSO speed camera

Gatso by Pug50 is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

A rear-facing camera that measures how far a car has travelled between two points, and flashes to take a photo of the rear number plate.

White lines often accompany GATSO cameras to show how fast a car is going.


A yellow Truvelo speed camera

 Speed camera by InvisibleProperty is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

A front-facing camera that uses sensors in the road to determine the speed of a car.

These cameras don’t flash, so you might not notice if you’ve been caught. Because they’re front-facing, the camera will capture the driver’s face.


Yellow average speed cameras

You’ll find these attached to gantries on dual carriageways and motorways. SPECS cameras monitor average speed.

They keep an eye on four lanes of traffic, and use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) to photograph every car.

Variable speed cameras

Variable speed limit camera

02_2016_004 by Highways England is licensed under CC-BY 2.0 


Unlike SPECS, these cameras are only active when there’s a temporary speed restriction on the motorway.

Also, these cameras can only monitor a single lane at a time, so there may be several cameras tucked inside a gantry.

Mobile speed cameras

Police with speed gun 

Mobile speed cameras use either lasers or radar to catch speeding drivers. These can be mounted in vans or hand-held by officers.

Fixed cameras are subject to weather conditions – a particularly rainy, foggy or snowy day could mean that a camera is inoperable. Mobile cameras are able to pick up the slack when this happens.

Traffic light cameras

These fixed cameras activate when the light goes red. Sensors in the road detect if you go over the line on a red light, which cause the camera to flash.

Because of their similar setup, TRUVELO speed cameras can also be used as red light cameras, and vice-versa.

DVSA/ DVLA cameras

The DVSA has a network of cameras around the country that use ANPR technology to catch cars that don’t have valid tax or insurance.

The DVSA and DVLA share data with one another to make sure that all cars on the road are above board.

Traffic CCTV

Traffic CCTV catching drivers 

Primarily, these cameras keep an eye on the flow of traffic to help with congestion and accidents.

However, some areas use CCTV to catch drivers who stop in box junctions or use bus lanes.


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