DEATHS on Oxfordshire’s roads rose 50 per cent during the first six months speed cameras were turned off, police said last night.

Road safety campaigners warned the situation should never be repeated as police prepared to turn the cameras back on next week.

They were switched off last August after Oxfordshire County Council decided it would not pay its £600,000 share of their operating costs.

Since then, 18 people have been killed in road accidents in the county, compared with 12 deaths in the same period for the previous year.

It was the first time road deaths had risen for four years.

In addition, 179 people were seriously injured, compared with 160 in the previous year, as the police said that speed enforcement did act as a deterrent against dangerous driving.

Supt Rob Povey, the Thames Valley force’s head of roads policing, said: “We think this is important, because we know that speed kills and speed is dangerous.

“We have shown in Oxfordshire that speed has increased through monitoring limits and we have noticed an increase in fatalities and the number of people seriously injured in 2010.”

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “This shows switching cameras off was a bad mistake in the most awful way possible.

“We very much welcome cameras being switched back on, because put simply, cameras save lives. But what happened was not acceptable.

“After the General Election it became obvious that central government, local government and the police had to work out how to cope with the reduction in funding.

“There are many areas across the country where, in the same situation, faced with similar problems, they managed to keep cameras on while they sorted it out.

“It’s a great shame that did not happen in Oxfordshire.”

The county experienced the highest number of serious accidents since 2004, although there was a slight decrease in serious collisions at the sites of 72 speed camera boxes.

The cameras were switched off when the council cut its funding to the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership by £600,000, after the Government cut its road safety grant.

Councillors complained that fines paid by drivers caught speeding went to the Government.

When the cameras were turned off on August 1 last year the Oxford Mail warned the public were being put at risk.

But yesterday, neither Thames Valley Police nor Oxfordshire County Council accepted responsibility for the increase in accidents.

Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Owen Morton said: “Any rise in the number of deaths or serious injuries on our roads is something no-one ever wants to see.

“However, there are many factors which have a bearing on road safety and the accident statistics, which makes it difficult to make definitive statements about cause and effect.

“Accident frequencies can also be expected to vary significantly when measured over relatively short periods, and should ideally be analysed over several years to identify meaningful trends.”

The council’s cabinet member for transport, Rodney Rose, said County Hall had withdrawn funding last year to protect other services.

Supt Povey added: “When the decision was made to remove funding, Thames Valley Police were not in the financial position to pick up the shortfall.

“This was discussed with the Police Authority and they fully supported this position.

“Since that time, we have worked hard to identify savings to allow us to switch the cameras back on as quickly as possible and we have now managed to achieve this.