THEY’VE rarely been out of the headlines since their introduction to Britain’s roads nearly two decades ago - but one thing is for sure, speed cameras are here to stay.

With that in mind, the Daily Echo – where we’ve run our fair share of speed camera stories over the years – jumped at the chance to take a rare, behind the scenes, look at the centre where Dorset’s speed and traffic light camera footage comes under the microscope.

Where are Dorset's speed cameras? See the list at the Road Safe website

The headquarters of Dorset Road Safe, in a nondescript building on Dorset Green Technology Park, processes thousands of speed camera reels every year.

It is here where specially trained staff examine this raw footage, determine whether a vehicle can be identified for speeding and send out notices of intention to prosecute – the dreaded NIP.

Vehicle registrations are clearly visible on the images we are shown, and these are then double checked before the process continues.

But the camera operation is just one element of Dorset Road Safe’s remit.

Head of safety, education and enforcement services, Pat Garrett, said: “I come to work for one reason and one reason only – to try and make a difference. Every morning I check the police accident logs; every time I see a death I think ‘oh no’. I know everyone else here does the same.”

Head of fixed penalties Johnny Stephens added: “We are all about saving people’s lives, it is as simple as that.”

In fact, the organisation leads the way in working to slash the county’s road death and serious injury toll.

A predicted 20,000 people will attend speed awareness courses here this year, compared to 19,006 in 2010.

Awareness course fees and speed camera fine revenues have been the subject of much public consternation, particularly in this new age of austerity.

The £100 courses, offered as an alternative to prosecution for drivers caught marginally over the legal speed limit, will raise £2million this financial year.

The usual speeding fine is just £60.

Course profits are ploughed back into Dorset Road Safe , top fund the county’s road safety initiative and the hard-hitting No Excuses campaign.

This high profile, zero-tolerance campaign was launched in 2010 to cut down on the number of fatal and serious accidents.

Eleven people died on the county’s roads last year, compared to 23 in 2009.

Meanwhile all money raised in speeding fines goes straight to the Treasury, who in turn finance the county operation via a grant.

Last year Dorset Road Safe’s budget was £1.4 million.

Mr Garrett said: “When people come to do one of our course, they have concerns how they are going to be treated.

“They are usually quite nervous, but they come out the other end feeling they have learned something. They regularly say they’ve changed their driving habits.

“I think now there is a greater recognition of the dangers of excessive speed – but it is the type of thing very easy for people to forget.

“This is where we can help, by consistently selling the message about the dangers of excessive and inappropriate speed.

The organisation also works with other education programmes, on traffic calming schemes - such as installing speed bumps - and monitors unusual loads on the county’s highways and helps with vehicle recovery and repossession.

We are trying to get people to accept the speed limit is there for a reason – they may not always understand the reason, they may think the road is capable of higher speed. But what they need to understand is why a road is designated as a certain speed.

“More and more people accept that 30mph in built up areas is needed. Now we have to get that out onto the other roads and the dual carriageways.”

In a recent investigation by consumer company Which?, Dorset was one of the few counties which refused to say how many of its cameras were active at any one time.

Using Freedom of Information legislation Which? found that 53 per cent of speed cameras across Britain don't work at any one time. But the magazine couldn't get figures for Dorset. It says it will be making an appeal against the decision.