Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The public wants photo radar - why is Campbell saying no

It's getting harder and harder to figure out Premier Gordon Campbell's opposition to photo radar.
The statistics suggest the Liberals' decision to cancel photo radar in 2001 has cost about 50 lives a year and thousands of injuries. Tragedies for the individuals and their families; a waste of human potential; and a major health-care cost.
Campbell is seen as a pretty pragmatic politician - look at the big swings on First Nations and climate change. You'd expect him to accept the reality that photo radar works. Crashes and deaths are both reduced.
I attributed the reluctance to an unwillingness to admit a mistake and the fear of a public backlash.
But last month Ipsos-Reid asked British Columbians how they felt about photo radar and red-light cameras.
The support was overwhelming for both, surprising even for those - like me - who figured the public recognized the common-sense benefits of deterring speeding drivers.
The poll, done for the Canada Safety Council, asked people across Canada about the devices.
Almost 90 per cent of British Columbians, and 84 per cent of Canadians, supported the use of photo radar in school zones.
Almost three out of four British Columbians supported the use of photo radar on highways, compared with 69 per cent of Canadians. And 84 per cent of British Columbians supported red-light cameras.
So there's no risk of a real political problem. In fact, it seems the public would welcome a measure that made life safer for their families.
It all makes the refusal to act baffling.
The evidence is overwhelming that photo radar works.
Before B.C. introduced photo radar in 1996, an average of 510 people had died annually in the five preceding years.
For the almost six years photo radar was in operation, the average annual death rate was 412 - almost 100 fewer lives lost per year to crashes.
The Liberals acted on their campaign promise and killed photo radar in 2001. And in the next three years, the average number of deaths increased to 449, an average 37 additional deaths per year.
A study done on B.C.'s first year of photo radar found "a dramatic reduction of speed" at deployment sites. "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.
Almost 20 per cent fewer deaths.
The people who object to the cameras can come up with explanations.
But a major Australian review last year analyzed data from 26 photo radar studies done around the world. The number of crashes was reduced by between 14 per cent and 72 per cent once photo radar was installed, it reported.
Fatalities were reduced by an even more dramatic 40 to 46 per cent - cut almost in half.
Photo radar - or speed cameras, as they're called now - isn't a cure-all. It would be more effective to have increased policing. The survey found that 42 per cent of Canadians thought there should be more traffic enforcement - roadside checks, radar, speed traps and the general visibility of police. Only seven per cent thought there was too much enforcement.
But police officers are expensive. Speed cameras, done right, are cheap. The old B.C. system used vans. Other jurisdictions set up permanent camera boxes in appropriate locations - school zones, stretches of highway with a high rate of crashes. They rotate the actual cameras between sites.
So for very little money, speeds are reduced in dangerous areas, there are fewer crashes and lives are saved.
Sometimes people would get tickets they don't deserve, because they loaned their cars to someone. But most of us would want to know if someone - a child, perhaps - was driving our vehicle at high speed.
The public backs photo radar. It saves lives, reduces health-care costs and protects families.
How long can the government keep saying no?
Footnote: The government hasn't come up with any reason for its position. Solicitor General John Les has even turned down a request for speed cameras on the deadly Patullo Bridge. The RCMP want them; they say enforcement is too dangerous. ICBC and Surrey council say the cameras are needed to save lives.
But the government won't budge.


Anonymous said...

I would like to see the wording of the questions before I commented on the results of the poll as the right wording makes all the difference in these things.

I believe there is solid support for red light cameras as well as for photo radar in school zones. I don’t think that support is there to bring back the cameras in the way they were used previously.

The problem with the old photo radar set up was that it was designed as a money grab. Cameras in my neighbourhood weren't set up in high accident zones, but rather on straight stretches of road where folks naturally were going to exceed some unusually slow speed limits (60 km/h on a four lane road with no unmarked cross-streets).

Maybe as a journalist you might want to remind your readers of a technical survey of speed limits that the Ministry of Transport had done ( It suggested that speed limits set on numerous stretches of highway and rural highways in BC are lower than would be considered safe.

Anonymous said...

It's facinating to see the same old arguments against photo radar. "cash cow". Not true. Heck even places like alberat have no qualms with using the process. It saves lives and lesser speed makes for lesser costs all round.

A engineering study is always next. "Speed limts too low" Go ask a cop scraping up the bodies. They state two things.
They support photo radar, and a lot of accidents are caused by speeding. The Malahat was reviewed and by enforcment things slowed down. The Pat Bay Highway is getting weird to drive. People doing the strangest things and the accidents rise in numbers.
Gordon got a lot of support when running to be Government from folks who didn't like photo radar and is too stubborn to change. Maybe he has some polls we never heard about buit I sort of doubt it. He supports treaties now because business and most of us want certainty, it's not because he really really feels the indians were being short changed.
He becomes a environment but puts no cash where his mouth is.
A strage provicne we live in. The premier was convicted of drunk driving, but lucky for him it wasn't in the province or he wouldn't have been able to keep his job no matter how much he grovelled to keep it. Photo radar doesn't work for the folks who can't seem to connect the sign markings telling them what the safe limit is , in good road conditions, to their brain and finally their feet. DL

Anonymous said...


Your last sentence: "Photo radar doesn't work for the folks who can't seem to connect the sign markings telling them what the safe limit is , in good road conditions, to their brain and finally their feet..." completely contradicts the start of your second paragraph: "A engineering study is always next. "Speed limits too low"

Had you made the effort to read the report you chose to disparage you would discover that it doesn’t provide a blanket “speed limits too slow”. Instead using commonly accepted engineering principals this report (commissioned by the Ministry of Transport , using their terms of reference) identifies selected roads where the speed limit is lower than what would be considered a “safe limit”.

Anonymous said...

No Blair I havn't read that particulr study. I'm just going on what the folks who patrol the roads are saying. And my 14 years spent drivung trucks around the lower mainland and lower part of the island Have you driven in countries with no speed limts at all. I have and when an accident happens its a lot of metal and bodies strewn about. With a forward deceleration of minimum 4 G's up to a very high number depending on what one hits it should be clear to most that things are going to bend more than at lower speeds. The Malahat crackdown found a lot of folks, not just a few kms over the speed limit. If every day was clear, no rain, no other adverse conditions your thoughts of slightly increased limits might apply. But the signs would have to be changed every few minutes. The limits are set to be driven with no adverse conditions.And by average drivers. I still believe that a sign posted is there to be followed and if all folks followed those posted speeds or lower in bad conditions there would be a lot less carnage on the roads. To see idiots driving by on the right side shoulder to get ahead, only to wait at the next light is just getting folks more flustrated. Lots of studies, so I guess you are picking one you like. I was a safety officer for a union, in fact two unions , got some trainging from WCB and ICBC. We heard the same arguments , but spent little time trying to get speed increases. You go right ahead and drive as fast as you think you should and with any luck not hit anyone else when the inevitable happens. Maybe you the modern day Phil Galardi checking corner speed allowances? I heard about a study not long ago . Seems some contractors were not keeping seat belts in vehicles being used for hauling field workers. Hey who needs seat belts? Please blow your horn loud and often as you pass us ordinary folks on the Pat Bay Highway next time you are over this way.

RossK said...

Interesting piece....led me to carry out a somewhat wacky thought experiment in relative risk comparisons.

To wit.....

Just imagine if you took the accumulated difference in the numbers cited by Mr. Willcock's and attributed them to, let's just say for argument's sake, a group of Cat Stevens-lovin', Jimmy Buffett-worshipping crackheads with shaved-heads, long beards, tatoos, and an armageddon fetish.

You think this wouldn't be the number one issue, front and center, to be exploited by shameless Pols and their PRMeisters?

All joking aside, it is very strange that Mr. Campbell won't budge on this one.

Which makes one it possible that, despite the overall numbers, internal polling flags this as a right-sided bedrock-base issue?


Anonymous said...

The Victoria paper reports that four young people were clocked in two different speeding events of well over 140 Km in 80 km zones. Lucky the didn't kill anyone. Guess they were happy they got picked up by cops with a hand held radar gun not a photo radar site. advertise and sell a car that can far exceed any provincial speed limt and some guy and someone else will try to blow the other one off the road. Hopefuly without killing some one else. Take the car keys, impound the car and let them walk for a few months. They might actually learn somehting but I sort of doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Photo radar should be used to take a picture of the front license plate & windshield in an attempt to identify the driver. In addition to a cash fine, we should also make speeding drivers feel the hit on their insurance rates, which requires identification. In particularly egregious cases of speeding, there should be criminal sanctions based on the photo radar record. I wouldn't count on the support for photo radar staying around for long if it were brought back, though - as soon as people start getting fined again, they're going to revert to a juvenile opposition to the system.

Anonymous said...

i would very much support photo radar if it were used properly. I lived in alberta for many years where it was used in my opinion as nothing more than a cash cow... for example the "van" would park at the bottom of a hill... one in particular a very steep incline with a 90k speed limit.. without holding ur foot steady on the break it is impossible to to remain at the posted limit. this is not a huge issue in the months other than winter.. but adding snow and ice ~ riding ur breaks down a steep incline is extremely dangerous... but there would sit the photo radar..waiting with $$ signs in their eyes... i think that photo radar is excellent in a school zone or any other areas with a high amount of foot traffic... but it never is used as such... as far as im concerned and from what i have witnessed it has been used as entraptment... and i would also like to know who photo's the photoradar i have had him SPEED past me several times...knowing what i know i would not vote for a mobile photo radar vehicle.. but instead for a photo box that stays in one location ie. school zones... as for the increse in accidents..dont forget there r more vehicles on the road year after year ... spend our tax $ on more important vehicle issues..such as drunk driving.