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Identifying priorities: Speed cameras

March 14, 2016 @ 00:03 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, General

Apparently, people speeding on residential streets in Ottawa is a problem. From what I’ve seen, there are definitely drivers in Ottawa that seem to treat speed limits as casual suggestions — a good idea for other people, but not applicable to them.

In response to this, there’s a motion going before Ottawa City Council to ask the province for permission to install speed cameras. Ontario tried speed cameras when Bob Rae’s NDP formed the government, but they were banished by Mike Harris for a variety of reasons.

In theory, speed cameras make sense. They allow penalties to be issued to speeders without needing a police officer to be there with a radar gun. Photographic evidence is hard to dispute (“is that your car in the photo?” “Uh, yes your honour” “right, fine upheld”); the police don’t have to pull the speeder over, which is safer for everyone; and the speeder is penalized.

Well, sort of.

The tickets are issued to the owner of the vehicle, not the driver, so the actual speeder is not may not be the one receiving the ticket (but I expect most owners will pass the cost along to the actual speeder). But more importantly, the tickets do not come with the demerit points a police-issued ticket comes with, so the speeder is essentially paying a tax to speed. Monetary penalties can be a strong deterrent, but if you can afford it (or ignore them), they’re not going to stop you from speeding. Demerit points, on the other hand, accumulate quickly and it doesn’t take many of them on your license before you’re having an uncomfortable discussion with the MTO about your driving, or taking the bus because your license has been suspended.

But another weakness of the speed camera system is this: it doesn’t stop the speeding as it happens. And that’s a huge problem from a safety perspective. If it’s not safe to travel above a certain speed, then people doing that should be stopped while they’re doing it. And that can only happen if there’s a police officer with a radar gun pulling you over. Ditto the more severe penalties such as an immediate license suspension or vehicle impoundment if you’re going extremely fast.

Without the police officer, it’s basically a money grab.

So, the proponents need to identify what the priority is: stopping speeders now, or billing them for the privilege of speeding later.

“But, Gord, this is a waste of police resources. They should be catching real law breakers.”

Is it really? Speeders are breaking the law and endangering the safety of others. The police are responsible for enforcing the law and protecting people, so it’s hardly a waste of resources.

Unless, of course, you think preventing people from being hurt by guns is more important than protecting people from being hurt by speeders. In both cases, people can die.

“But, Gord, red light cameras have been effective at reducing accident rates are high-risk intersections. Speed cameras are just a different type of camera, so they’ll be equally effective.”

Um, no. Not necessarily. Red light cameras work because running a red light is essentially an instantaneous violation. Once it has happened, it’s done. A police officer pulling someone over after they’ve run a red light isn’t going to prevent the person from going through the red light, unlike speeding where the act of the police officer pulling the speeder over stops the speeding.

So, if we’re serious about eliminating speeding on residential streets in Ottawa, let’s apply the appropriate resources to the problem: the police. Ticket the drivers, including demerit points that have all sorts of ramifications to the speeder’s license and insurance. Don’t just charge them for the privilege of driving over the speed limit.

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