Photo radar balances budgets, does nothing for safety

Photo radar locations suggest profit is the motivator, not safety

Last summer, United Conservative Party leadership candidate Brian Jean elaborated on his platform, including a province-wide referendum on whether photo radar should be allowed in Alberta.

Politicians, especially those at the top of the food chain, tend to know the hot-button issues. Photo radar seems to be on many people’s minds.

I used to be a supporter of photo radar. When it began its run of popularity in the mid to late ‘90s, it was mostly used on highways, multi-lane roads and high collision areas. Mostly, there was a certain tolerance…to separate habitual speed demons from law-abiding people who had a momentary lapse of attention. I supported that.

That is no longer the case. There’s been a backlash across the province against robot police officers snapping photos of speeders at ever-lower speeds. Those interested in challenging the tickets in court have virtually no opportunity to do so, as the laborious, drawn-out Alberta court system discourages all but the most obsessed “offender” from pleading not guilty.

Many if not most communities that employ photo radar publicize the speed traps’ locations ahead of time in an effort to off-set public anger against a system that critics say doesn’t discourage speeding. Moving the speed traps around the community only antagonizes average drivers who go over posted limits by a few kilometers, and does nothing to address the problem of speeding (speed demons only see it as a tax they pay to drive like lunatics). In effect, it collects fine revenue, which is considerable, but doesn’t educate speeders about the danger they pose.

The danger itself is a question when it comes to photo radar locations. The average person would assume photo radar is set up in places like school zones, curvy two-lane roads or blind corners near hospitals. That actually isn’t the case. The City of Edmonton loves to set up photo radar traps on six or eight lane freeways like 137 Ave, some stretches of which have no intersections and no crosswalks.

Traffic in a heavy urban environment tends to regulate itself anyway, but even if some traffic is driving 70 kilometers per hour in a 60 zone along an arrow-straight, pedestrian-free six-lane road, what harm does that cause? None.

A few years back when I worked in a suburb of Edmonton, I wrote some stories and opinion pieces about photo radar, and one particular interview permanently turned me into an opponent of the tactic. I interviewed one of the top photo radar bosses for the City of Edmonton, someone who, after a few minutes of espousing his philosophy on speed control, had obviously lost touch with reality. He was a strong supporter of photo radar and saw nothing wrong with any devious, underhanded approach to its use, including placing photo radar traps on freeways like 137 Ave.

He also said that he felt any kind of tolerance was inappropriate. He literally told me that tickets should be issued for people going two or three kilometers over the speed limit. Ridiculous.

The City of Edmonton epitomizes the flawed approach of many other urban areas that exploit photo radar, a holier-than-thou police state mentality that turns ordinary people who make a one or two second mistake (that includes all of us, by the way) into lawbreakers who could face humiliating and inappropriate consequences.

If photo radar had been employed conservatively in the areas that justified it, people might not despise it so much.

But abuse of the tactic by municipalities purely for profit even has top politicians like Jean questioning photo radar’s usefulness.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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