Editorial: Don’t be afraid to bring back photo radar

Photo radar saves lives. The B.C. Liberals should set aside their political squeamishness and bring it back. The B.C. Coroners Service is calling on the province to do something about reducing the number of deaths among young drivers, including using technology to catch speeders.

The service has also suggested the government examine its graduated-licence program to see if it can be improved. The recommendations follow a review of 106 young-driver deaths from 2004 to 2013. Speed was a factor in nearly 30 per cent of the fatalities.

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It would be a mistake to focus on any one measure to the exclusion of all others, but it is also a mistake to rule out one method already proven to reduce speeding and decrease traffic fatalities.

Experience in B.C. and elsewhere shows the value of photo radar. In the six years before it was introduced in 1995, the average number of people killed on B.C. roads annually was 534. During the six years photo radar was used, the average dropped to 408. In the six years after photo radar was discontinued, the average rose to 439. After the first year of photo radar in B.C., a study found the number of daytime unsafe-speed collisions had decreased by 25 per cent and the number of fatalities by 17 per cent.

Photo radar was brought in by the NDP government and booted when the B.C. Liberals took power. Premier Christy Clark has promised it would not return because it was a measure initiated by the NDP and was deemed to be a cash grab, neither of which is a sound reason.

If photo radar works, it doesn’t matter who implemented it. And avoiding the cash grab is simple for any driver — note speed limit on sign beside the road, check speedometer, adjust speed accordingly. Anyone can do it.

Furthermore, the location of speed cameras could be prominently posted, as is done in other jurisdictions, so that no one is caught by surprise. Thus warned, drivers could lift heavy feet from accelerators, saving themselves the cost of a ticket while easing somewhat the danger on the road.

Michael Egilson, chairman of the panel that conducted the traffic-deaths review, isn’t recommending the return of photo radar. Instead, he says, the panel suggests using aerial surveillance or “time-and-distance” cameras, a system that takes a photo of a vehicle at two different points and calculates the average speed between the two points to determine if the car went over the limit.

We fail to see a substantial difference between that and photo radar, except that photo radar seems much less complicated.

The public was understandably concerned about police using an automatic number-plate recognition system — it scanned licence plates indiscriminately and stored the data collected. The police could go fishing in databases, and it’s no surprise that people found that invasive and more than a little creepy.

But photo radar is triggered only when a vehicle is speeding. Properly operated, it is no more intrusive than a police officer standing beside the road with a radar gun.

Cameras could even be permanently posted, so drivers would be fully aware they would be caught speeding. The cry is often made for stiffer fines for various offences, but the certainty of punishment is a far greater deterrent than the severity of punishment.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the government is interested in technologies and approaches that will help reduce highway deaths and welcomes all suggestions for reducing highway fatalities.

Except for one that has been proven to work.

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