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Bring back photo radar? Here’s a better idea

Published January 10, 2013

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says photo radar should once again be up for consideration because, as his spokesperson Mark Pugash said, “…police officers are a very expensive resource to use for something which technology can do, and much more economically.”

Mr. Pugash added that the force isn’t looking to increase revenue.

No, of course not.

Regular readers would not expect this to go without comment from my own self, especially if they know that former Ontario premier Mike Harris – the guy who killed photo radar in 1995 – personally gave ME credit for getting him elected on this very issue, because I had brought the manifold flaws in this program to light through my stories in Wheels.

More: Why there’s no such thing as a ‘dangerous’ highway

More: 10 common traffic violation myths

(Geez Mike; don’t blame ME for getting you elected. My teacher friends have never forgiven me. They might not have known when they had it so good. But I digress…)

The reason I was opposed to photo radar then, as I am opposed to it now, is quite simple: it doesn’t work.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Messrs Blair and Pugash, but the point is supposed to be to make our roads safer, yes?

Nothing to do with revenue, as Mr. Pugash confirms.

And the statistical evidence to back up this claim?

ZERO.

How is that possible? “Everybody” knows that if we drove slower, we would kill fewer people.

Turns out, just as “everybody” knows by merely looking out their window that the world is flat, “everybody” is wrong on this score too.

Our fastest roads – our divided highways – are, by any statistical measure, our safest roads, because of superior design and engineering.

There is ZERO statistical evidence that any amount of speed limit enforcement we can even begin to afford will have any measurable effect on the speed we actually drive. If it did, why would they have to keep doing it?

And even if we DID drive slower, there is also ZERO statistical evidence that it would positively affect collision frequency or severity.

Sure, speed can be a contributing factor to the severity of a given crash – I’m not arguing the laws of physics here.

But according to police “accident” reports, speed is way WAY down on the list of driver actions that lead to collisions.

And never mind that over 50 per cent of the photos taken by this technological solution during the former photo radar “experiment” never resulted in a charge being laid; according to data collected and provided to me by various detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police, in areas where photo radar was most often implemented, traffic deaths actually increased during this time frame, and by substantial measure.

I am not saying – I have never said – that photo radar caused these increases, or even contributed to them.

It is simply yet another piece of evidence that speed limit enforcement:

Simply,

Does,

Not,

Matter.

Now, we know that our federal government ministers are proud that they don’t let facts get in the way of their decisions.

Are our provincial and municipal governments falling into that same abyss?

In a vastly previous lifetime, I worked for Procter & Gamble, at the time (possibly even now) one of the best-managed, most profitable companies in the world.

It had a cost reduction program called “Methods”, which encouraged every single employee to examine every single procedure he/she performed, and ask, “If it were not for what ‘Basic Cause’ could this cost be eliminated?”

In other words, don’t start by looking for ways to do things cheaper; start by looking to see if you need to do this thing at all.

Pure common sense, isn’t it?

But the one thing we know about common sense is that it isn’t very common.

Especially amongst politicians.

So, maybe the way for Bill Blair to save some money on his budget is to tell his officers to stop speed limit enforcement altogether.

It costs huge amounts of money.

We know that.

We know (or are at least told) that the fines accumulated (by the provincial government, as must be repeated, NOT by the Toronto police department) do not begin to cover the expense.

And it is spectacularly ineffective in achieving its stated objective.

If that isn’t a cost crying out for elimination, what is?

We also know from various experiments in Holland and elsewhere that eliminating ALL urban traffic controls – lane markings, stop lights, stop signs, pedestrian crossings, everything – can curb the number of collisions, injuries, and deaths.

Cost ELIMINATION, not cost REDUCTION.

And better results.

Who could possibly argue against that?

Assign those existing expensive officers to tasks that actually can make our roads safer, such as moving patrol cars with videotape cameras to catch unsafe driving actions in court-acceptable form, to get lousy and unsafe drivers off the road.

If you still want a technological solution, take the money saved and put it into technology which can return additional benefits.

I’m even all for red-light cameras, because they DO indisputably catch people doing what is among the most dangerous acts possible in an urban traffic environment.

Better still, (again, indisputably) build more roundabouts, which – like divided highways – reduce the possibility of serious collisions due to their superior design and engineering.

And of course, roundabouts do not need red-light cameras.

Yes folks, it really IS that simple.

The people in charge just have to realize that this particular Emperor is not wearing any clothes.

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