Editorial: Photo radar a valuable tool

Toronto Mayor John Tory is asking Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to amend provincial laws so Toronto will be allowed to use photo radar. Ontario opposition parties say they are open to the idea, and several municipalities support Tory’s request.

Like B.C., Ontario once had photo radar on its highways. As in B.C., photo radar was introduced in Ontario by an NDP government and booted out when another party, capitalizing on the unpopularity of the technology, took power.

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Yet public safety should not be a political football. Photo radar saves lives; it should permitted in the array of tools used to enforce traffic laws.

It should not be the only tool, of course, but it is a 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 here 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.

Tory’s focus is not so much on saving lives as saving money.

“Give us legislative freedom to do a couple of things that I think are going to be very fundamental to the modernization of policing and to the addressing of the police budgetary concerns,” he said after a 40-minute meeting with Wynne.

He said he is seeking “broader latitude than we have today to use technology, especially when it comes to things like traffic management.”

“We can use technology in place of uniform police officers. This will allow for more efficient deployment of expensive, highly trained police officers,” he said, adding the technology “could include photo radar,” especially in school zones.

A year ago, the B.C. Coroners Service called on the province to consider the use of automated cameras and other devices to catch speeders and help reduce the deaths of young drivers.

The recommendations stemmed from a review of 106 young-driver deaths from 2004 to 2013. A review panel found that motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among teenagers in B.C., and that speed was factor in 30 per cent of those fatalities.

The panel didn’t recommend the return of photo radar, which the B.C. Liberals insist will never happen anyway, but suggested instead 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 units could be placed strategically, such as on the Malahat or in school zones, where safety is a prime concern.

Those who opposed photo radar repeatedly labelled it a “cash cow.” But fines are punishments for breaking the law. If you don’t want the government to get your money, don’t speed. If you do speed and get caught, don’t complain.

We do not advocate that all law enforcement be done by machines, but that automation be used to free up uniformed officers who would be better deployed elsewhere.

Photo radar was pulled in B.C., not because it was ineffective, but because it annoyed people. That’s a sad excuse for rejecting a means of making our roads safer.

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