It is a piece of mail no one wants to see as one digs into their mail box— the dreaded photo radar ticket, which you know before you even open the piece of mail.
Sit in on a court day any Tuesday and you will see a docket filled with traffic infractions, the majority of which are often photo radar tickets.
At the very least, you can see photo radar as the great equalizer for driving justice, not being discriminatory regardless of your socio-economic class — if you put the pedal to the metal in certain speed zones, you get a ticket.
But it has long been a point of contention among many Canadians whether it actually helps make roads safer, or is it simply a cash cow for provincial and municipal governments to help off set expenses?
A new Liberal government swept into British Columbia back in 2001, with political analysts noting how Premier Gordon Campbell’s promise to scrap photo radar resonated with voters.
Effective Dec. 1, 2019, municipalities and police services were subject to a freeze in relation to the installation of new or upgraded photo radar devices in Alberta. Rules for site selection, operational restrictions, and data collection are now all under review under the current UCP government. Starting in March 2020, Alberta cities will have to prove that photo radar is making roads safer in specific locations.
MNP was engaged by Alberta Transportation to conduct a review of Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) in the province in 2018 which found photo radar generates about $220-million a year in revenue while reducing fatal collisions by 5.3 per cent.
There is no doubt photo radar helps with safety on roads to some degree, and if at the same time provinces and municipalities can help balance their budget due to a ‘speed tax’ that is completely avoidable by the driver, then so be it.
But the problem many have with photo radar is not necessarily its final purpose, but how it is executed overall with its optics.
For instance, school zones are considered playground zones.
If the main drive for photo radar is safety for children, why set up photo radar in the school area where there are no longer large amounts of kids congregating in the summer, if not to simply catch drivers who think it’s 50 km/h with school out?
Would it not be more sensible to move it to areas where youth are commonplace in the warmer months, like skateboard parks, pools and playground areas?
Is it just coincidence a speed trap is put at the bottom of a hill, or where there are three changes in speed zones quite close together like the Highway 3 stretch around Coaldale?
It is the camouflage nature of photo radar with its ‘gotcha!’ factor in some questionable spots that have people questioning the sincerity of the purpose of photo radar.
And if one is wanting to emphasize road safety in the moment, getting your hand slapped with a ticket weeks after the fact is hardly the most effective way, especially for those who are more affluent, where a ticket is a minor inconvenience rather than a ticket replacing your rent payment you were barely able to make in the first place.
Adequate signage warning people of high photo radar areas, or signs recording people’s speed as they go by would help get the desired effect of a driver easing up on the gas pedal in the moment, with the person actually on the road at the time where safety concerns are most immediate.
That friendly reminder will linger through the driver’s head for the remainder of their trip, no matter how much longer it may be.
However the UCP’s findings may be for site selection, operational restrictions, and data collection in the near future, the system certainly can be tweaked for the better. Both to maximize road safety outcomes photo radar proponents advocate for while also calming the naysayers in the optics department that photo radar is nothing but a cash cow, thanks to increased transparency with photo radar locations.