Jurisdictions throughout the United States have been dropping the use of red light cameras and speed cameras. On Tuesday, the revolt spread to Strathcona County, Canada where the county council voted 5-4 to replace automated ticketing machines with real, live police officers.
“As far as we can tell, other than British Columbia a few years ago, we’re the first jurisdiction in Canada to remove photo radar,” Councillor Brian Botterill told TheNewspaper in an interview.
In 2001, Liberal Party leader Gordon Campbell campaigned in the province of British Columbia with a promise to ban speed cameras. When election day arrived, voters threw out the incumbent NDP party and handed Campbell 77 out of 79 seats in the provincial legislature. Now Botterill and his colleagues are conservatives opposing a policy originally put in place by conservatives in the province of Alberta.
“We see photo radar as a social experiment that failed,” Botterill said. “It was an interesting attempt, but in the end it didn’t work.”
Instead of mobile speed camera vans, Strathcona County will hire five new enforcement services officers, use radar-activated speed boards to warn drivers to slow down and conduct an engineering analysis to maximize safety. The photo enforcement contract with Affiliated Computer Services expires on September 30, so the county will go month-to-month until the new officers are hired, which could take up to nine months. After that happens, the speed vans will be eliminated.
The goal of switching from unmanned enforcement to manned enforcement is to redirect the focus away from ticketing those driving slightly above an underposted speed limit to going after the egregious violators who Botterill contends are the most dangerous. In Canada, 37 percent of fatal accidents were caused by drunk drivers. One out of five accidents were caused by distracted drivers.
“Photo radar could never stop those root causes, but manned enforcement could,” Botterill said. “Let’s focus our limited dollars on the root causes.”
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police report predicted that if the mobile speed cameras were kept they would issue 13,911 tickets and generate $1.2 million in revenue. Of this amount, a $512,000 surplus would be added to county coffers, while five additional officers would cost $270,540 — after taking into account the 8,428 tickets worth $727,010 they would be expected to issue.
“Automated speed enforcement continues to be a significant tool in the long term goal of improving road safety in Strathcona County,” RCMP Sergeant Christian Narbonne argued. “Its use is economical, socially sustainable and environmentally sensitive as per the Strathcona County Strategic Traffic Plan mission statement.”
The majority did not agree with Narbonne. Although the speed cameras will be removed, the red light cameras that generated $237,350 in revenue last year would remain. Instead of removal, the council voted to investigate engineering improvements that would sharply cut down on the number of citations issued.
“We probably shouldn’t be ticketing until the all-red is over,” Botterill said.
The council is also working on a number of other changes to improve safety on county roads. Staff will review and cut on down the number of unnecessary school zones, reducing the current 250 zones to 30 where children actually likely to use the road.