A HUGE rise in the number of drivers caught speeding in Oxfordshire has led to claims that switching off Speed cameras made the county’s roads more dangerous.

Last month, Thames Valley Police switched the cameras back on after an eight-month hiatus, nabbing 5,917 motorists in the first 30 days.

That compares with just 2,286 fines issued last July, the month before the cameras were turned off when Oxfordshire County Council withdrew its share of funding for them.

Campaigners said the figures showed drivers were flouting speed limits when the cameras were off, because they did not think they would get caught.

But Thames Valley Chief Constable Sara Thornton refused to say if she or the force accepted any responsibility for the increase in speeding because of the lack of enforcement.

The camera switch-off last August came after the council withdrew £600,000 in funding after its grant from the Government was cut.

Speed cameras were left on in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, the two other counties served by Thames Valley Police.

The force switched Oxfordshire’s cameras back on on April 1 – with the first motorist being caught at 6.56am.

Police road safety officer Sgt Chris Appleby believed complacency was a factor.

He said: “There was an element that thought they were not going to comply with the law, because they were not going to be caught.

“The figures are an indication there are a lot of people speeding and we know it (speed) is a major factor in people being injured and killed on the roads.

“I’m disappointed the figure is so high.”

But he added: “I think reactivating cameras impacts on safety. More people abide by speed limits and, as a result, people are safer on the roads.”

Corinne Grimley-Evans, of Oxford Pedestrians’ Association said roads had been more dangerous without the deterrent effect of the cameras.

She said: “There’s no doubt about it. It was a very bad idea to turn them off.”

Police will pay for the operation of the cameras, estimated at £800,000 a year, and the council will pay for maintenance of the equipment.

Rodney Rose, the council’s cabinet member for transport, said the authority was not to blame, because while it was responsible for road safety, speed enforcement was a police duty.

Mr Rose said the rise in the number of people fined “emphasises the need to turn them back on”.

“If they slow people down, it has to have a safety impact.

“The enforcement of speed limits is a police duty. We had to spend what money we had on our core business.”

As well as the surge in fines, earlier this year it was revealed that the number of deaths rose by 50 per cent, from 12 to 18, during the camera switch-off.

Ms Thornton refused to comment on whether roads were more dangerous during the switch-off period and whether she should take any responsibility.

She said: “The primary purpose of road safety cameras is to reduce death and serious injury on the roads. The number of collisions across Oxfordshire between August 2010 and January 2011, compared to August 2009 to January 2010, reduced from 885 to 867.”

She said camera enforcement “is not the only thing we do. It is part of the strategy”.

Oxford city councillor Nuala Young said the roads had got more dangerous by the day with the cameras off.

She added: “If it had gone on much longer, we would have seen higher accident rates. It was a slippery slope.”