Despite the government and road safety groups crowing last week that speed cameras save 100 lives a year in the UK, figures released this week show a more accurate picture – that road deaths actually increased in total.

Figures released by the Department for Transport show that there were 3,508 fatalities in 2003, up from 3,431 the previous year, an increase of 2% and the biggest rise for seven years.

There was good news, however, as the number of children killed on our roads fell by 4% to 171, and pedestrian casualties fell by 6% and serious injuries by 9% overall.

Accidents involving motorcyclists rose by 58 in 2003, leading some safety groups to call for improvements to rider training.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said the increases were “concerning” and called upon the government to increase traffic policing levels to help prevent offences that go undetected by speed cameras.

This matched the concerns of the RAC Foundation, who said an 11% cut in traffic police numbers was not justified by the increasing reliance on speed cameras.

Edmund King, Executive director said: “The Government must concentrate more on effective and visible enforcement and education. The decline in traffic police means that offences such as careless driving could be going unchecked.”