Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for January 7th, 2013

Time to bring back photo radar?

with 16 comments

I was on CKNW’s Bill Good show this morning. It was all remarkably positive. Everyone accepted that speed limits are widely ignored, though there was a range of opinion on what could (or should) be done about it. Bill is on record as an opponent of the previous method used for photo radar – the green vans, parked sometimes in places were they were less than prominent, and where revenue collection was going to be better, even if safety was not really an issue. Most people connected the speed and safety issue – so that message seems to have got across. What is needed now is some better understanding of what can be done.

The first point I want to make is the lack of relevant, recent data. Go to the  Traffic Collision Statistics page of the ICBC web site and you will see a series of reports – but none more recent than 2007. Obviously ICBC has statistics more recent than that: for instance this CBC story today looks at the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the the new laws on cell phone use while driving. “Numbers from ICBC show fatal crashes involving distracted driving dropped by about 20 per cent in 2011” – but where are those numbers? I can’t find them. Anymore than I can find any data that looks specifically at this region, rather than the province as a whole. We cannot have a sensible discussion about any issue when the agency responsible keeps all the recent data hidden away, and only produces pr messages devoid of real information. Is speeding increasing? Have the rates stayed the same in recent years as driving declined?

There does not seem to be the same sort of push back against red light cameras as there was against photo radar. Yet the role of “ignoring a traffic control device” in collisions is less than a third of speed.

We also know that police presence does affect compliance. The trouble is that there cannot be a marked police car at every hot spot every time – nor is it always safe to have police officers trying to pull over speeders. As Bill pointed out, there are real problems policing bridges and places like the Stanley Park causeway. That is why I am an advocate of average speed cameras. These use the same technology as traffic surveys – and toll collection – number plate recognition and matching. Cameras are already mounted on the overhead gantries – so the process of determining who gets across the bridge far too quickly is pretty easy to implement. And there can be prominent signs informing drivers that their speed is being measured.

The other issue that got identified is driving too fast for conditions. That is something where “posted speed” is not relevant. If the road is slippery, or visibility is reduced, posted speed is not safe  – and is already illegal. “Driving too fast for conditions” can get you a ticket. There are some places where the speed limit varies by conditions  and such a system would certainly be worth considering for our freeways and bridges.


1. But none of this would have helped on the Port Mann Bridge last week (which is what prompted the discussion in the first place).

2. “Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair wants to take another look at photo radar cameras as a way to trim enforcement costs in an era of frozen police budgets.” CBC

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2013 at 10:05 am