Photo Radar Rears its Ugly Head…Again.

Yes, we get hate mail:

Hello. You have certainly acquired a lot of publicity over your views. Good for you. I just watched a story on Global BC news. Apparently municipal leaders want photo radar back. Just as a point, how many members of SENSE? Just wondering if you might give in to the fact that more brains is better than less brains. You can do more with more brains that you can do with fewer brains. See where I’m heading with that? I’ll take their wisdom over yours.Next point. You have an issue with “cash grab” photo radar. Question. So what? You have a problem with keeping kids safer? Do you have kids? You spent any time in school zones? As a parent do you think I give a damn if you or anyone else gets a speeding ticket and pays a fine because you were being reckless in a school zone? I see, those school zone speed limits are too low. Right.

Every level of government needs money. You want to speed in a school zone? Let the photo radar give you a ticket. You deserve it. Oh, right, actually if people watched where they were driving they might not be speeding through that school zone.

Your views tell me one thing. You’re out of touch. You don’t have children and you haven’t spent very much time watching cars rip through school zones lately. I see that you must be an advocate of keeping kids less safe.

All that said, I’m not an expert. What I do know is that the “smarts” of the municipal leaders is what really matters. Your views mean nothing, but the media seems to enjoy them. I guess you can take pride in that. I recommend some sensitivity training that way you can get a real view on people getting run over and the impacts on families. You have no solutions because you are ignorant to speed limits, and obviously as it relates to blatant disregard for school zones. I know, you’re all about the speed.


OK, police tell us the people most often caught violating school zone speed limits are the parents either dropping off or picking up their children, so there goes the theory that only those without children are “out of touch”. In fact, for us it’s always been about a) whether photo radar works as advertised, b) what are acceptable laws and types of enforcement, and c) what does it cost?

Make no mistake, there’s big money in the Robo Cop business. So even though this ill-thought out resolution by the UBCM will hopefully/likely go nowhere (as repeatedly promised by our provincial government) in the short term, there is no shortage of industry to push the product, and their enablers who most often put emotion before logic; and so the push continues.

While there’s only dubious “proof” that PR results in reduced crashes, injuries and deaths, we do concede photo radar can be effective in slowing traffic in the immediate vicinity of deployment. While the industry motivation is obviously money to its promoters, it’s an ideological issue for its supporters. If this were about safety, we know the simplest thing would be to deploy police officers in problem areas – the cost of officers is small compared to the value of children – right?  And, there’s many ways of doing it; actually, something as simple as a cardboard cutout of a police officer has been shown to work.

For photo radar to work, practically any enforcement to work, there needs to be certainty of apprehension. Surveillance based enforcement does not provide that apprehension. Worse, it’s like an opiate, and it works only where it’s used, and for as long as it’s used. Because of this, and the fact photo radar is a hungry beast, it requires constant expansion of its hunting grounds.

Anybody who thinks that photo radar is cost effective for school zones is deluding themselves as in those areas there is simply not enough volume of violators to feed the beast. But the promoters know this, don’t fool yourselves. So the using of children to push the product is very cynical indeed… but expected.

And so as with any business that needs to survive, the choices are: product diversification, market expansion and pricing adjustments. In photo radar terms, as we see in other jurisdictions (and let’s not forget why it was ditched in BC), that means additional cameras, expanding use of cameras on higher volume roads, reduced tolerances, raising ticket prices, the rezoning of roads to meet camera criteria, issuing tickets on days when children aren’t in school, operator mistakes that see innocent people get tickets, and so on.

On the subject of acceptable laws and enforcement, photo radar is NOT acceptable. Photo radar speed-enforcement systems eliminate the necessary practice of visual corroboration by the police officer. A single still photograph of a vehicle cannot later be examined to determine intermittent operational fault or other failures in the photo radar system. (Ghosting and reflections is a known issue with all types of radar). The accused owner, who may not even be the driver or alleged violator, receives the ticket well after the fact… sometimes long after the fact. In many if not most cases, this renders a ticket virtually impossible to fight. It’s a defacto conviction where the accused neither faces his accuser nor has a fair chance of defending himself.

These systems target the owner of the motor vehicle, not the driver. For traffic safety, it is imperative that police officers have direct interaction with traffic offenders to ensure that they are licensed, insured, competent, and most importantly: unimpaired. Automated enforcement fines do not deter the criminal drivers who are by far primarily responsible for severe crashes. Responsible owners can be faced with traffic fines for offences they had no control over. The systems put revenue collection above punishment of the offender: someone has done committed a crime, someone must be punished, but it doesn’t matter if they are the same person. And again, even though this really is all about the money (for the pushers), the cruel joke is that the systems are unaffordable for school zones. And as we’ve pointed out above, we know what that means.

When photo radar operated in BC starting in 1995, the total operating costs were in the range of $130 million – far more than was expected. While it generated a similar amount in fines, the hidden costs of operating (processing facility, computer systems and integration, etc.) were so substantial that any claims that automated equals cheaper cannot be accepted. This was a failure for the taxpayer, a failure for safer roads.

So does it work as advertised? No. Is it an acceptable form of enforcement? No. Fail.


  1. Tim Finnigan

    January 16, 2014

    AND FURTHER TAKE NOTICE THAT the grounds for these Constitutional questions are as follows:
    1. The defendant’s right under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms regarding the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure has been violated.
    It is my understanding that the operator of the radar camera device did not make a determination of my vehicle’s speed and thus had not established reasonable and probable grounds to believe that my vehicle was exceeding the speed limit prior to measuring the speed and taking a picture of my vehicle and its license plate, and thus did not have the right to “seize” this evidence and take further action. I do intend to subpoena the operator in order to verify this understanding. It is my understanding, subject to correction by the court, that under the law as it applies to Breathalyzer samples, that the police do not have the right to seize a sample of a driver’s breath and take further action unless they have first established reasonable and probable grounds to do so. I humbly submit that the same concept applies to the right to “seize” a sample of a driver’s speed, that police do not have the right to “seize” such a sample and take further action unless they have first established reasonable and probable grounds to do so. It may be argued that the speed of the vehicle is not an attribute of a person and as such is not subject to Constitutional rights, but I would counter that the speed of the vehicle is due to the actions of a person and the owner of the vehicle will be prosecuted for that speed, should it be found to be in excess of the limit posted at the place where the sample was “seized”. It may also be argued that because this is an administrative penalty only, Constitutional rules may not be applicable. By way of “administrative penalty only” my understanding of the meaning is that the penalty is financial only and carries no demerits or other weight. Now, let’s say for the sake of discussion that one earns minimum wage of $10/hour and receives a $150 fine. Notwithstanding withholding of tax, this works out to 15 hours where one is effectively indentured to and working for the Crown – I humbly submit that this is hardly an administrative penalty only. Finally, it may also be argued that collection and prosecution of radar camera evidence is in the interest of public safety and as such Constitutional rules might be suspended. I would counter that the cost of this is the reputation of the system of justice, as related in the Constitution Act section 24(2): Where, in proceedings under subsection (1), a court concludes that evidence was obtained in a manner that infringed or denied any rights or freedoms guaranteed by this Charter, the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

  2. Tony Kirsten

    January 9, 2014

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. The system is a scam to generate revenue. People need more driver education so that we can all be safer on the roads. Not more enforcement.
    Cheers Tony

  3. James C. Walker

    September 22, 2013

    The ONLY way that photo radar produces a profit is when the posted speed limits are set FAR below the actual, current, safe speeds of travel. It is a 100% scam.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

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