Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘speed cameras

Reform of ICBC needed

with 2 comments

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 5.44.26 PMThe front page of Saturday’s Vancouver Sun was the need to raise insurance rates identified by a leaked report that the BC Liberals asked for, and then kept quiet about. Over the next 24 hours the tone of the Sun story has changed on line since, of course, the corporation (Postmedia) that publishes the Sun supports the BC Liberals. So the banner headline on line now reads “NDP must come clean about plans for ICBC, Liberal Opposition demands” rather than “Huge ICBC rate hikes loom without reform:report”. The report comes from Ernst & Young and is critical of the policies of the BC Liberal government which cross subsidized mandatory basic rates from the profitable optional side.

The report was commissioned by ICBC’s board earlier this year, but was not made public. A copy was leaked to Postmedia News.

While ICBC premiums are among the highest in Canada, the report said, “they are not high enough to cover the true cost of paying claims.”

“More accidents are occurring on B.C.’s roads, and the number and average settlement of claims are increasing. Only recent government intervention has protected B.C. drivers from the currently required 15 per cent to 20 per cent price increases. This rate protection has eroded ICBC’s financial situation to a point where it is not sustainable.

“The average driver in B.C. may need to pay almost $2,000 in annual total premiums for auto insurance by 2019, an increase of 30 per cent over today’s rates,” the report said, adding that assumes that current trends persist, that ICBC is expected to cover its costs from its premiums and that significant reforms are not made.

There are a number of recommendations

The review suggested B.C. could follow the models of New Brunswick, Alberta and parts of Australia by capping payouts for pain and suffering on minor injuries from $4,000 to $9,000, while at the same time increasing accident wage and medical benefits.

It’s also possible to let drivers buy an optional “top-up” coverage that would, in effect, give the drivers back the right to sue to replace any reduced claim money they could have got through the courts.

Minor claims have soared in cost by 365 per cent since 2000 and are eating up 60 per cent of all total injury payouts, says the report. The size of cash settlements for minor injuries is also rising, as is the number of accidents on the road and the cost to fix technology inside modern vehicles.

Of course the Liberals are already accusing the NDP of wanting a “no fault” system – even before the new government has had time to get their feet under the table. The Liberals are also in full damage control mode since it was their decision to cancel photo radar that started the problem. Changing red light cameras to catch speeders would be a relatively easy thing to do, but the real speed problems are out on the open road. The intersection issues arise from contempt for other basic rules of the road, lack of common courtesy and patience, and an almost total absence of common sense.

Unfortunately there is no mention of the interval camera system. This uses existing technology widely used in traffic surveys to match number plates over a fixed distance. The owner of the vehicle gets a ticket when the car has covered the distance between two cameras in much less time than the posted speed limit allows. This system is more effective that the just at this point of the old photo radar – which was housed in a fairly distinctive vehicle, and thus fairly easy to avoid.

I think another reform is not just capping the amount allowed for minor claims, but also banning the present practice of lawyers advertising for claimants and being paid on a share of the payout. The incessant repetition of these ads during the CBC 6pm tv news means I now know them off by heart. And the message is that you can make ICBC increase the payments they offer if you sign on with a the named lawyer. Of course, what it does not say is the increase in the settlement goes to the lawyer and not the plaintiff. I find these practices offensive and they have only been permitted in recent years and should be reversed. It simply wrong to expect to make a profit from the suffering of others – and I think these adverts get very close to encouraging people to exaggerate their claims.

The mismanagement of crown corporations under the previous government is going to take some time to correct. If I were advising the BC Liberals, I would tell them to tone down the attacks, when clearly the current government has to do what it can to sort out the mess the Liberals left behind. The current tone taken by my local MLA Andrew Wilkinson, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena is not one that is going to win him much support. Except from Mr Toad who enjoys speeding and relishes crashes as exciting intervals in an otherwise dull existence.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 23, 2017 at 5:48 pm

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.

UPDATES

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

B.C. drinking-driving deaths cut in half

with 10 comments

The CBC reports today:  “Deaths from impaired driving in B.C. have been cut in half since new drinking-driving regulations took effect last fall”
This is very good news indeed. The coverage of the new regulations at the time they were brought in, and subsequently, seem to be negative. There was a lot of uncertainty about how much you could drink safely – so most people, it was suggested, stopped going out and restaurants were hit hard. There was, it was conceded, the impact of the HST might also have had something to do with that. The campaigners at Mothers Against Drunk Driving have shown how effective a pressure group can be – and ought to be pleased with these results.

On the same day George Monbiot deals with the related UK story of photo-radar – or “speed cameras” as they are called there.

The experiment is over and the results are in. In April, Thames Valley police switched Oxfordshire’s speed cameras back on. They had been off for eight months, as a result of the government’s decision to cut the road safety grant. Then the police began assessing the damage. In the 31 days before the cameras were switched off (July 2010), the machines caught 2,286 speeding motorists. In the 30 days after they were switched back on, they caught 5,917.

In the eight months without cameras, there were 18 deaths on the roads in Oxfordshire, compared with 12 in the same period in the previous year. This was the first time in four years that the number of deaths on the county’s roads had risen. Serious injuries rose from 160 to 179.

When Gordon Campbell was first elected he cancelled the highly unpopular photo radar program here. That was a bit different to the UK system which uses fixed cameras: in BC there were vans parked at the side of the road, and while in theory they could go anywhere in practice they showed up at sites which – according to the critics – produced the most revenue. Those opposed to photo radar here and there have always concentrated on the “cash grab” argument. Which, as Monbiot points out, has been consistently disproved – but the facts that don’t suit the opponents

 journalists and others have promulgated a powerful and dangerous myth: that speed cameras are useless, and exist only to tax the public.

We now have a new premier who has promised change. I would like to suggest that rather than attacking ICBC (which has been providing good value car insurance, and profits, and has pioneered road safety features like modern roundabouts) she turn her attention to speeding and the toll that has on road users. For speed and collision severity are not just strongly correlated, we also understand the physics of collisions. The greater the speed, the greater the energy that has to be absorbed in a  collision, and the greater the damage to people who are not inside steel cages.

On drinking and  driving “… there are 23 people in British Columbia that are alive today because of the new policies and new penalties,” Penner said in Victoria late Thursday.” I wonder what the story would be if the same attention were paid to excess speed. I think that speeding is an offence that occurs far more often than drink driving – because nearly everybody seems to do it most of the time. And nearly all of it goes undetected, simply because we do not have anything like the resources to deal with it. I find the method of enforcement of our drink driving law oppressive: everyone passing a road check gets stopped and questioned. There is no presumption of innocence and now much less “due process” but we seem to have accepted that the saving of lives justifies this intrusion on our right to go about our business without interference until suspicion falls on us. Unlike speeding, there is no lobby that actually suggests that drink driving should be encouraged – though there are plenty of people who have – they say – taken an economic hit due to stricter laws and tighter enforcement. But most drivers believe that they are better than average, and that the design speed of roads (and, of course cars) is much higher than the posted speed. Indeed, on the Sea to Sky Highway – and the Patullo Bridge, come to that – it was not that the road was inherently dangerous, but that drivers refused to obey the posted speed limit no matter what the conditions.

My suspicion is that if we used the current red light cameras to photograph speeders as well – something they can easily do – we would see a significant change in behaviour. Most obvious the current belief that “green means go, yellow means go faster”. Fixed cameras at the highest collision sites would be the next step – and average speed cameras on sections of road that have no intersections – bridges would be my first choice. The Oak Street bridge has a posted speed of 60 km/hr. Most drivers treat it as part of the freeway (it isn’t) and excess speed across it is common. Indeed, once released from the line up prior to 70th and Oak, the green light southbound there seems to be seen as a starting gun. Average speed cameras do not use radar: we use similar equipment here all the time to measure flows through intersections by comparing license plates on vehicles entering and leaving an intersection. The same technology using two cameras at a known distance apart and synchronized to the same time produces incontrovertible evidence that the vehicle covered it at excessive speed. The only argument, of course, is who was driving it at the time.

The latest data from ICBC is 2007 “The number and rate of deaths in speed-related collisions has fluctuated over the RSV 2010 period with no clear trend in more recent years. However, the increasing trend observed from 1999 to 2002 has not continued.” I cannot help but feel that trend might have had something to do with the ending of photo radar.

My reading of that is that 160 people died in collisions “involving speed” . In that same year alcohol was the cause of 120 deaths. It seems to me that there is a greater case for effective speed enforcement on this statistic alone. Although maybe I should talk to Vicky Gabereau about why the statistics page at the ICBC website seems to be so far out of date.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Road safety

Tagged with ,

A Killer Commute

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Rafe Mair in today’s Tyee correctly identifies the problem with the sea to sky highway. “Even after its upgrade, the road to Whistler won’t be safe.” But it is not the road that is the problem. It is the drivers. And he has that right too – so maybe the subeditor put in that strap line. Rafe even goes so far as to call for a re-introduction of photo radar, which might work but is unlikely.

I repeat what i have suggested for the Patullo Bridge. Average speed cameras use technology already common for traffic surveys and signal controls. They are ideal for sections of road that have few or limited accesses – a bridge or a length of highway cut out of the side of a cliff on fjord. Not only that, but they could be calibrated to work with variable speed limit signs. We currently use fixed speed limits which nearly everyonme ignores most of the time. But a safe speed may be well below depending on weather and traffic conditions. Variable speed limits are also in use in Britain – but not here.

People drive fast because they can. They buy very expensive cars that are advertised heavily for their performance – and that means how fast can it go – now much torque – its road handling – speed through twisty bits and so on.  Motor sports are used to test and promote cars – often at speeds far beyond anything reasonable on public roads. That is why the ads have (in tiny print) warnings about professional rivers and closed roads. But when Mr Toad gets behind the wheel of his super duper GT extra special he does not feel like sitting in a nice orderly procession. He wants to get there first!

And the more expensive the car, the greater the sense of entitielment to break the law with impunity. And Gordon Campbell by scrapping photo radar simply endorsed this behaviour. It is like giving a drunk the keys to the liquor cabinet.

The death toll on our raods is, to me anyway, unnacceptable. That of the Sea to Sky was so bad it was used to justify speeding it up! Common sense must prevail – and so must the rule of law. The current situation where scofflaws go unpunished and the innocents are slaughtered (along with the idiots) cannot be allowed to continue.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 11, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Road safety

Tagged with

“Fixes to deadly Pattullo Bridge delayed again”

with 5 comments

Vancouver Sun

New Westminster Fraser Bridges aerial

As always everyone blames the infrastructure. When I started work back in the seventies, I had to deal with press stories headed “Killer Canal Strikes Again” as though somehow the canal had leapt from its banks and slaughtered the innocent. The tail end of the Sun’s story says it all for me

Local police said Thursday they are looking forward to news of how the bridge will be fixed.

“There’s obvious public concern with regards to the safety of the Pattullo Bridge,” said Surrey RCMP Sgt. Roger Morrow. “Any improvements are being welcomed.”

New Westminster Police Sgt. Ivan Chu said most crashes on the bridge are caused by drivers following too closely or making unsafe lane changes, and speeding is a particular problem at night.

“It’s the curve stretch where most of the accidents happen,” he said. “Because they clip one another because the lanes are so narrow.”

Chu called the bridge “daunting to drive…. It’s difficult to drive when you haven’t driven over it, because you have two curves, it’s uphill and then it’s downhill, and the lanes are very narrow.”

Hardie said there have been no front-end crashes on the bridge since centre-lane nighttime closures were introduced.

“The Pattullo Bridge is a perfectly safe bridge and people can cross perfectly safely if they maintain the proper speed and just drive safely,” he said.

Just as the Sea to Sky Highway was “perfectly safe” but presented an irresistible challenge to people with fast cars to see just how quickly they could get from Vancouver to Whistler. And, of course, a frightful number did not make it at all.

The answer to unsafe driving is not widening or straightening but enforcement of the existing laws. As I have written here more than once, average speed cameras are an obvious, low cost and highly effective solution. Following too closely and making unsafe lane changes might need additional cctv which would need to be monitored – but that is a lot safer than putting police personnel at risk on the bridge itself. And we do not need to study this, or have a pilot program. All it needs is for the Provincial Government to end its stubborn persistence in a policy that was introduced very early in its mandate, and was simply a way to appeal to the people who saw photo radar as a “tax grab”. Indeed, it can even be announced as a way to save lives while the “problem” of the bridge is being reviewed.

For I will bet that a few months after it is introduced the “problem” will have been solved.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 30, 2008 at 10:18 am