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Speed cameras don’t impact drivers equally

The fines seem designed to be an inconvenience to those who can pay, but a serious problem for those who can’t, writes Sami Haj-Assaad

By Sami Haj-Assaad Wheels.ca

Sep 11, 2022 4 min. read

Article was updated 16 days ago

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One of the great joys of being an automotive enthusiast in Toronto is the abundance of cool, rare and stylish cars around the city. There are Instagram accounts and Facebook groups dedicated to sharing photos of various drool-worthy rides parked on our city’s streets, drawing eyes and attention.

Occasionally, you’ll find a photo of an expensive car with a parking ticket under the wiper. These wealthy exhibitionists would rather park where it’s convenient for them, knowing they can afford the fine – or  find a loophole to get out of it.

McLaren parking ticket don't care

Simply put, these parking tickets don’t deter them like they do to the general public and have no long-term impact on their lives or car ownership.

Some believe that Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) or speed cameras installed in our communities may fall victim to a similar pitfall, allowing the wealthy and privileged to speed where they want to, and swallow the fines as they wish.

Of course, any new form of enforcement is met with criticism, but this concern may carry some weight, seeing how other forms of mindlessly fining drivers can be exploited.

The speeding fines from cameras are the same across the board, but the impact of those penalties differs based on the individuals. Those who can pay the fines can go about their lives as normal. They can renew their license and plates (and maybe enjoying higher insurance rates) since the tickets don’t carry demerit points. No matter how many tickets one racks up they'll be okay if they have money to spend.

But a driver who can’t (or doesn’t) pay the ASE fines will encounter difficulties when renewing their plates. They may consider driving with unexpired plates, risking further fines or serious penalties like a suspended license, which could impact one’s ability to work and make money.

The system seems designed to be a mere inconvenience to those that can pay the fines, but a serious problem for those that can’t. One mistake can cost a driver their livelihood. Just driving 50 kilometres per hour through an empty Royal York Road or on The East Mall at 2 a.m. can trigger this kind of hardship thanks to an automated speeding ticket, even though they posed no safety risk.

Income-based fines

There are a variety of solutions to resolve these concerns. Consider the Day-Fine, or the process of levying a fine on someone based on their income. A day fine is calculated by how much one would lose in a day if incarcerated without salary. The number of day fines would depend on the severity of the crime.

Only a few countries apply day fines to speeding infractions, including Finland. There, you’ll see fines that are sure to raise eyebrows. In 2002, a former Nokia director was ordered to pay a fine of 116,000 euros ($150,000 CDN) after being caught driving 75 kilometers per hour in a 50 zone on his motorcycle. More recently, a Finnish businessman was fined 54,000 euros ($71,000) in 2015 for driving 22 kilometres over the 50 kilometre per hour speed limit.

Unlike set fines, day fines are designed to impact all walks of life fairly. Switzerland and the United Kingdom apply these kinds of income-based fines to help deter speeding. Another option might be to fine repeat offenders with higher fines.

Make no mistake, speed cameras can be effective. For starters, they can help negate the over-policing of minority communities and racial profiling. It may also help deter excessive speeding. That's when a car speeds more than 50 kiometres per hour over the speed limit. Excessive speeding is a Part III offence and if an ASE camera catches a driver doing it or more, it will send a court summons to the registered owner of the vehicle, which is a very serious matter. So far, 430 of these charges have been laid out since the beginning of the ASE program in 2020.

Mississauga has also reported that the speed cameras are improving compliance with speed limits. Following the rollout of 35 speed cameras throughout Mississauga, the city found that each ASE location has improved compliance with the posted speed limits. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the streets are safer or that there are fewer collisions in the city, just that the enforced streets are flowing at the rate they’re designed for.

Other factors to consider with the Mississauga data, is there have been 8,258 tickets issued or $725,708 worth of fines handed out. Held against the $618,698 it costs to operate the speed cameras, the city collected $151,698. It looks like the city has found a new revenue stream. Would another 35 locations double that pot?

If the goal is for safer streets, the speed cameras seem to be delivering. But the city needs to understand that some systems and fines are felt differently across income brackets.

Sami Haj-Assaad is an award-winning automotive journalist from Toronto. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @Sami_HA

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