POLICE in County Durham claim their soft anti-speeding tactics have been vindicated after the Government announced plans to copy them.

Four years ago, Durham Constabulary rejected fixed speed cameras in favour of targeting hot spots with cameras mounted on 15 marked police cars, a mobile camera, an unmarked police car and an unmarked motorcycle.

Instead of issuing automatic speeding tickets, officers distributed cautions to some drivers and worked with partners to suggest engineering changes to make roads safer.

The approach has resulted in a 40 per cent drop in the number of road accidents in the county over the four-year period. Now the Government has announced plans to follow Durham's example by axing hundreds of fixed speed cameras across the country.

Assistant chief constable Ron Hogg has written to Transport Minister John Spellar expressing his delight at the move.

He said: "We have used a targeted and focused approach to enforcement rather than the blanket prosecution of drivers.

"We know drivers in County Durham and Darlington widely accept the need for effective policing at problem times in areas where speed-related accidents occur.

"The vehicles and equipment we use are highly visible and there are also signs to warn drivers.

"Given the high profile nature of our presence in these hot spots, we know drivers can have few complaints about our robust approach to inappropriate speeding."

Traffic officers have estimated that fixed cameras could have resulted in the issue of 70,000 speeding tickets a year. Instead, between 1,100 and 1,200 drivers a month have been prosecuted and 4,000 issued with cautions.

Mr Hogg said the former course of action would only have alienated people. "Our area has a population in the region of 600,000, and if we had issued fixed penalty tickets to 70,000 drivers a year, we would have succeeded in alienating a large slice of the mainly law-abiding people we serve, exhausting the goodwill of the very people whose help and support is so vital to us," he said.

"The softly-softly intelligence-led approach is working and fewer people are being killed or injured on our roads."