Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A simple way to save lives on our roads

Another year, another 50 unnecessary deaths in B.C., victims of the government's unwillingness to put politics and ideology ahead of public safety.
Governments like to talk about keeping our streets safe. So why do the Liberals steadfastly refuse to introduce a simple, cheap measure that could save so many lives and keep thousands of people from hospital every year?
I'm referring to photo radar, reminded of the lost opportunity by a British report assessing the effectiveness of the "speed cameras," as they call them. The Department for Transportation report found that in 1996, before photo radar was introduced, only 28 per cent of drivers in England were obeying the 30-mph speed limit in built-up areas. By last year, more than 50 per cent of drivers were obeying the law.
The number of drivers going more than 35 mph - the point at which tickets are issued based on photo radar - was cut almost in half, from 37 per cent to 19 per cent. (The study looked at a wide sample of roads, not just at areas where photo radar was installed.)
Speeding down residential streets and through business districts is still a big problem. And photo radar has had made only a slight impact on highway violations. But the reduction in speeding is still huge. And so is the reduction in deaths.
The study found pedestrian deaths had fallen from 997 in 1996 to 671 in 2005. That's more than 300 people a year going home to their families instead of the morgue.
There's nothing surprising in the study. The reviews of B.C.'s photo-radar experiment found similar reductions in speeding, crashes, deaths and injuries. Drivers don't speed when they think they might get caught. So offenders slowed down.
Despite the arguments of people who believe that speed limits are unnecessary - that every driver should be able to drive at the speed he decides is safe - all the evidence shows speed limit enforcement saves lives.
A major Australian review last year analyzed data from 26 photo-radar studies from around the world. The results were striking. The number of crashes was reduced by 14 per cent to 72 per cent once photo radar was installed. Fatalities were reduced by an even more dramatic 40 per cent to 46 per cent.
Or look at the evidence here.
The B.C. government introduced photo radar in 1996. In the preceding five years an average 510 people had died annually in crashes. During photo radar's almost six years of operation the annual death rate fell to 412 - almost two fewer deaths each week.
The Liberals killed photo radar after the 2001 election.
In the first three years after it was gone the average number of deaths was 449, an increase of 37 a year from the photo-radar era. In 2005, 459 people died in crashes.
A study done on the first year of photo radar in B.C. found "a dramatic reduction of speed" at deployment sites, accompanied by a decrease in collisions, injuries and deaths.
"The analysis found a 25-per-cent reduction in daytime unsafe-speed-related collisions, an 11-per-cent reduction in daytime traffic collision victims carried by ambulances and a 17-per-cent reduction in daytime traffic collision fatalities," the study reported.
A lot of British Columbians didn't like photo radar. They thought - wrongly - that it was a cash grab. The implementation was unnecessarily costly and labour intensive.
So the Liberals said during the 2001 election campaign that they would kill the cameras.
But the evidence shows that was a bad decision. It has cost hundreds of lives and thousands of injuries, shattered families and put needless pressure on the health care system.
Fixing the 2001 mistake would be as simple as using the red-light cameras already in place at intersections around the province to catch speeders.
Other high-risk areas - neighbourhoods used as shortcuts by commuters, high-accident streets, school zones - could also be targeted.
It's hard to see why the government won't act. Solicitor General John Les says he doesn't think photo radar saves lives, but he can't really believe that in the face of all the clear evidence.
And given the ease with which the Liberals shed other campaign promises, that can't be the issue.
Photo radar would save lives, reduce injuries and help ease the health-care crunch.
What's the government waiting for?


Anonymous said...

What I find interesting about this government digging in their heels just because the previous government had brought in cameras. So the right wing Alberta government used photo radar and one seldom hears about it. I guess it's supposed to be some Macho thing to speed most of the time. I suggested a few more cops on the Malahat and a bit of camera work would be much cheaper than the deaths, maiming and property damage on that bit of road. Lots of talk, no action

Anonymous said...

thanks Paul
a) for posting a new column
b) for coming back to photo radar

I drive a lot and I HATED photo radar. There were some cheap cash grabs by police looking to make their quota.

BUT . . . it sure worked. Which I had to acknowledge despite my deep-seated loathing.

It was interesting to see driver behaviour on my road trip the summer of 2006 throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan and BC. BC drivers were the worst (ironic given the most dangerous roads too).

I won't drive the Jasper to Kamloops route again. I was almost killed twice by semi's cutting me off. And I'm a alert defensive driver and usually driving 10-15 k over the speed limit.

The one place drivers were obeying the posted speed limit to the very letter? Edmonton. Which had prominently posted signs "speed limits enforced by photo radar".

And when I drive the Pat Bay highway outside Victoria out to the ferries, I'm doing 100 in a posted 90 k zone . . . and I'm in the slow lane, being passed by one car after another doing 110+.

Anonymous said...

PW wrote: "Solicitor General John Les says he doesn't think..."

An honest reply from the BC Lberals.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I missed something because I missed the last debate, but what's not to like about photo radar?

It's high time we got it!

Anonymous said...

Hating or arguing against something that reduces the carnage on the road is sort of starnge in my mind. It's really quite simple. A bunch of money is spent putting up speed signs which are to indicate maximum speeds when the conditions are perfect. so some clown blows by everyone, often in the curb, only to be seen at the next light. It's a power trip for them. add in a cell phone, someone brushing their teeth, or combing their hair and voila, a accident, Unfortuanlty they usualy don't just kill or injure themselves. My Gosh, New York state had build in units in overpasses almost thrity years ago. Having a drivers licence is not a God given right, its subject to some rules. If anyone but the NDP had installed photo radar, it would still be saving lives reducing pollution and reducing fuel consumption. dl

Anonymous said...

I'm far from a supporter of the NDP, but I am a supporter of photo radar. If people don't want to get speeding tickets, they shouldn't speed. I have one suggestion, though: photo radar should be modified to take a picture of the front license plate, including a picture of the driver's face. By identifying the driver, it would be possible to apply demerit points to their license. This would serve the end purpose of deterrence, and also address criticism that photo radar is just a cash grab. Going off on a tangent here, I'd like to suggest that we should be much, much harsher towards driving violations in the Lower Mainland. We have tremendous traffic congestion - why should we extend the privelege of driving to bad drivers? Raise the bar, reduce the pool of drivers, reduce the traffic congestion, make the streets safer, and reduce pollution. It's not like people wouldn't be able to get around anymore, either - there are fairly good transit services.

Anonymous said...

You know if photo radar is reinstituted they will be at the bottom of big hills, or in areas where there is never crashes. In my area there were 3 spots where they set up photo radar. In over 10 years of living in this particular area I have never seen 1 accident in those "high risk areas".

The sanctimonious, speed limit obeying, crowd should also get ticketed for going under the speed limit. Studies have showed that speed variance is the largest contributing factor to accidents. So that person going 20km hr under the flow of traffic is in often more responsible for accidents than the so called speeding person going with the flow of traffic.