Photo radar’s worth supported by evidence

In mid-January, Red Deer city council authorized a second photo radar vehicle to be used in the city. The news spawned an editorial in the Advocate, letters to the editor and online comments.

In mid-January, Red Deer city council authorized a second photo radar vehicle to be used in the city. The news spawned an editorial in the Advocate, letters to the editor and online comments.

Many of the writers questioned if photo radar improves traffic safety. Some questioned the degree of public support. Others claimed that photo radar is mostly a cash cow for municipalities.

This summary shares some of the current knowledge. The unabridged version is at www.leadrs.ca.

Safety aspects

Susan Shaheen and associates examined international reports about automated speed enforcement. They found that the use of photo radar often led to speed reductions of two to 15 per cent and crash reductions of nine to 50 per cent. Many studies showed that speed cameras were effective in reducing the serious crashes that involved injury and death.

The B.C. experience

The B.C. photo radar program began in 1996 with the goal of achieving a three per cent reduction in mean traffic speed.

Researchers evaluated the speed and traffic safety effects of the B.C. photo radar program after one year of operation. They found that daytime unsafe speed related collisions reduced by 25 per cent, the number of daytime traffic collision victims transported by ambulance went down by 11 per cent, and the number of daytime traffic collision fatalities dropped by 17 per cent.

Traffic collisions continued to decrease after the first year of the B.C. program. The annual improvement included 14 per cent less injuries (2,220 persons) and 26 per cent less fatalities (79 persons).

The net annual economic benefit was determined to be nearly $114 million, which included a benefit of almost $514 million due to safety improvement and an expense of slightly less than $372 million due to time lost in travel.

Public support

The polling firm, Ipsos Reid, surveyed Canadians in mid-2007 about the use of photo radar and red light cameras. Greater than two of three Canadians supported the use of photo radar to identify vehicles that break the speed limit in school zones and on highways.

Is it a cash cow?

Research shows that photo radar programs can be revenue creators, cash neutral or require financial support.

Photo radar programs may initially be revenue-positive but revenue will decrease as drivers become more experienced. Nevertheless, the improvement in traffic safety will continue, thereby calving what might have begun as a cash cow into enduring benefits to the public.

Published information about photo radar shows that it is an effective tool for reducing the danger in using public roads.

Many of the concerns about photo radar result because there is no public agency that has the role of ensuring that motorists are correctly informed about its benefits.

Doug Taylor

Red Deer