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UK speed cameras: types, how they work and what to watch out for

  • Parkers lists the most common speed cameras in the UK
  • We let you know how each camera system works…
  • … and tell you what to watch out for on the roads

Written by Luke Wilkinson Published: 1 June 2022 Updated: 7 June 2022

The UK’s roads are littered with speed cameras. There are more than 7,000 units dotted around our highways – and more are being added each year as the government’s smart motorway programme rolls out across the country. Currently, Britain has the fourth highest number of speed cameras in the world, trailing only Brazil, Italy and Russia.

As such, we can almost guarantee that either you or someone you know has been caught by a speed camera. In this article, we’ll list the most common types of speed camera currently used on UK roads, with clear pictures of each unit, so you know what to watch out for. We’ll also explain how each camera system works. Scroll down to browse the list.

If you’re concerned about getting snapped by a speed camera, you could invest in a radar detector. Bear in mind, though, that this technology will only work for the camera systems which use radar emitters to track the speed of your car. If you’ve got a more modern car with intelligent speed assistance, you can programme the technology to automatically prevent you from exceeding the speed limit.

Gatso speed cameras

Gatso speed camera
Gatso speed camera

These are the most common speed cameras found on UK roads. Gatso introduced the UK’s first ever speed camera in 1991, which used physical film rolls to record speeding motorists. Now, they snap digital photos – but their size and shape hasn’t changed much since then.

Gatso cameras are big, bright yellow boxes mounted on poles at the roadside which use radar sensors to monitor the speed of approaching traffic. They’re rear-facing units, which means they take a picture of the back of a car if it drives past over the speed limit. If you trigger a Gatso camera, you’ll see a flash in your rear-view mirror.

In front of the camera, you’ll see a series of white lines painted on the road. These are used to check the driver’s speed. The camera takes two photos in quick succession, and the distance the car has covered between the two images can be used to work out the speed.

Truvelo Combi speed cameras

Truvelo Combi speed camera
Truvelo Combi speed camera

Truvelo cameras work a little differently to Gatso cameras. For starters, they’re front-facing units, which means they can be used to identify the driver of a speeding vehicle. They also don’t flash like a Gatso – they feature an infrared flash to avoid dazzling the driver.

Ahead of the camera, there’s a series of piezo sensors embedded in the road surface. They measure the vehicle’s speed as it drives over the road and, if it’s travelling faster than it should be, a signal is sent to the camera unit to snap the picture.

They’re a similar size and shape to the Gatso camera and they’re also paired with white lines on the road which are used as a secondary check for the car’s speed. Some units also have an external flash unit mounted on a separate pole next to the camera.

Truvelo D-Cam speed cameras

This is the next-generation, digital version of the Truvelo Combi. It was launched in 2013 and can be mounted in either front- or rear-facing configurations. It can also be used to monitor motoring offences other than speeding, such as red light running.

Most work in the same way as the Truvelo Combi, using sensors in the road to monitor the speed of approaching traffic. If a car is travelling over the speed limit, the sensors trigger the camera. The D-Cam also uses an infrared flash to avoid dazzling the driver.

However, there is a variant of the Truvelo D-Cam which uses a laser to measure the speed of passing vehicles. It works on the same principles as a police officer’s handheld speed gun – and if a car registers too high a speed, the camera records the offending vehicle.

SpeedCurb speed cameras

SpeedCurb speed camera
SpeedCurb speed camera

SpeedCurb cameras are a blend between Gatso and Truvelo units. They take pictures of the rear of a vehicle like the former system, but they use sensors embedded in the road surface to register the speed of passing traffic like the latter.

If you drive past a SpeedCurb camera too quickly, the camera will take three pictures of your car. The first two are wide-angle shots which show the vehicle and the area it’s driving through, while the final one is a close-up image of the licence plate.

Like a Gatso camera, the first two images are used as a secondary check on the vehicle’s speed. There are white lines painted on the ground ahead of the camera, and the distance the car has covered between the two images can be used to work out its speed.

Peek speed cameras

Peek speed camera
Peek speed camera

These slightly gawky-looking cameras work in the same way as Gatso units. They use radar technology to monitor the speed of passing traffic. If you’re travelling faster than the speed limit, it’ll snap a picture of the rear of your vehicle. They’re not all that common in the UK.

HADECS 3 speed cameras

Ever driven on a Smart Motorway? You’ll have passed plenty of these. The acronym stands for Highways Agency Digital Enforcement Camera System 3 – and the units are some of the newest and cleverest speed camera systems to be installed on UK roads.

When they were launched, they quickly gained the nickname “stealth camera.” They’re small and mounted either on the side or rear of motorway gantries, which makes them very hard to spot when whizzing past at (ahem – roughly) 70mph. Some are even painted a sneaky shade of grey, rather than the fluorescent yellow of the other camera systems outlined here.

The system’s technology is verging on weapons-grade levels of sophistication. HADECS 3 cameras can monitor up to five lanes of traffic at once, using two radar systems built into each unit. If a car passes under one travelling in excess of the speed limit, the camera snaps the car’s plate and automatically sends the case to a central computer to be processed.

As they monitor Smart Motorways, the speed these cameras enforce is also completely variable. Just because the national speed limit on motorways is 70mph doesn’t mean you’re always immune from prosecution if you stick to that speed. If the overhead gantries display a 50mph limit, for example, these cameras will record you as an offender.

SPECS speed cameras

SPECS speed camera
SPECS speed camera

SPECS cameras work a little differently than the systems we’ve covered so far. Instead of checking your speed at a fixed location, they monitor it over a distance. They can keep tabs on you for several miles and will issue a ticket if your speed is greater than the set limit over the section of road they’re fixed to.

They’re normally mounted on dual carriageways and motorways, and there will always be at least two cameras per stretch of enforced highway – one to clock you in and one to clock you out. When you pass under the first one, an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera registers a timestamp to your car and starts a stopwatch.

Say the cameras are enforcing a two-mile stretch of road with a 60mph speed limit. If you’re travelling at the speed limit, it should take you two minutes to cover that distance – and that’s the yardstick the camera’s timers use to judge you (with a little bit of leeway in most cases). If you reach the second camera faster than that, the system will issue you with a ticket.

VECTOR speed cameras

VECTOR cameras come from the same company that makes SPECS cameras – and they can also be used to monitor average speeds. However, they’re able to enforce a host of other regulations, such as congestion charging zones, yellow box violations, bus lane usage and catching red light runners. 

The average speed-enforcing VECTOR cameras are mounted on massive yellow poles at the roadside. There’s often just one camera perched atop each stick, as a single unit can be used to monitor two lanes of traffic. The system is even clever enough to keep tabs on a two-way road as well as dual carriageway.

Cameras that aren’t enforcing speeding offences are normally painted grey, which makes them a lot harder to spot – especially when they’re buried alongside heavy street furniture. Every version of the camera uses an ANPR system.

Mobile speed camera vans

Mobile speed camera van
Mobile speed camera van

As the name suggests, these are speed cameras mounted in the back of police vans which are parked on the side of the road at accident hot spots. Commonly, they measure your speed using either a laser or a radar emitter, which bounces off the surface of your car and back to the police receiver.

The laser models have a range of about a mile, while the radar variants can only track you for a couple hundred feet. Since there’s no way of telling which device the officer has from the outside of the van, your best bet is to stick to the speed limit. Navigation applications such as Waze can also warn you of police camera vans along your route.

Images sourced from Shutterstock