Thousands of motorists are being duped [in Britain] by a new email scam which erroneously suggests that police are hiding hi-tech speeding cameras in motorway signs.
The hoax message has been circulating the country, forwarded by worried motorists to friends and family, claiming that new electronic road signs on the M4 are actually a cover for sophisticated digital SPECS speed cameras. No one seems to know who originated the story but conspiracy theorists point the finger at the police.
The email message, which has been "doing the rounds" since the new signs were switched on by a transport minister last week is completely incorrect but has been widely believed because it is always passed on as a warning in good faith by someone known to the recipient. The RAC Foundation has been inundated with copies of the e-mail. The cameras are, in fact, close circuit TV cameras.
It joins the legions of other motoring "urban myths" which are now spread through computers - a modern successor to folklore disseminated at the fireside.
Some of the most notable have been:
Pot the Red
The widely held rumour that some police officers have played "speed snooker" when booking offending motorists for speeding, targeting a series of specifically coloured cars interspersed by a red one to gain hypothetical points with their colleagues - spawning the legend that drivers of red cars are more likely to receive a fine or prosecution than others.
Over the Odds
The tip-off on how to avoid getting points on your licence. This email, purporting to be from a reliable source, claims that when you get a ticket for a motoring offence you should return a cheque for an amount marginally in excess of the fine. It suggests that the fining authority would then have to send you another cheque for the excess amount which you should destroy - the e-mail states that no points can be accrued to your licence until the whole financial transaction is completed and that never happens as the authority, once they have received their money, don't pursue the matter. The claims, of course, are wrong and have never worked.
Another story to achieve widespread circulation is the one of the motorist caught exceeding the limit by a speed camera in Cheshire. It claims that after he received a copy of the offending picture along with a penalty notice for £40, he returned a photograph of two £20 notes and was surprised when someone at the other end of the process with a sense of humour sent him back a photograph of a set of handcuffs! This one could have some basis in fact but has never been substantiated.
The report that two officers carrying out speeding checks with hand held radar guns accidentally became involved in an international incident when their equipment registered the speed of an approaching vehicle as 300 mph. The story goes that they had mistakenly locked onto an aircraft over flying the area and triggered its missile launch capability. For a number of scientific and operational reasons this one is undoubtedly incorrect - but has assumed legendary status.
It's a Steal
The infamous tale of the couple of dodgy characters who couldn't believe their luck when they one night spotted what looked like a television apparently abandoned at the side of the road. Reversing hastily and bundling the piece of equipment into their car, the triumphant pair sped off only to be stopped several hundred yards later by a couple of amused police officers demanding the return of their new style speed trap. Probably
untrue... but you never know.
Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation said:
"What all of these urban legends demonstrate is a common desire to get away with something. Perhaps motorists feel increasingly persecuted and criminalised and want to believe them. Most of these myths have no basis in fact.
"It is interesting that their method of circulation, via email from one user to another, mirrors old story telling techniques and maybe the technology adds credence to them and certainly speeds up the spreading of these urban myths."