Recently, the Ontario government decided municipalities could use photo technology to enforce compliance with traffic signals.
So, it is not a surprise to hear the government has been quietly consulting officials on bringing back photo radar.
Where does OTA stand on this? At its last meeting the OTA Board of Directors re-confirmed its view that speed enforcement using photo radar – if properly implemented and administered as part of a comprehensive program – could be an effective road safety measure.
Many lessons were learned during the province’s previous experiment with photo radar.
If the government is going to re-introduce – which appears inevitable – it will need to incorporate what was learned during the first go-around.
In large part, the previous photo radar program was undermined by the public’s belief that the initiative had nothing to do with road safety but was driven by the government’s desire for revenue. This skepticism surely exists today.
OTA also needs to be assured that highway safety is the prime motivator – not filling the government coffers.
This concern could be effectively dismissed if the government were to make a commitment, in legislation that all surplus revenues derived from tickets issued under a photo radar program would be allocated to a separate, dedicated fund, to be used by MTO for education/awareness on road safety.
It is well understood that the most effective way to change driver behaviour is through a coordinated combination of enforcement and education.
One without the other is seldom effective.
Ontario’s strategy in the late 1970s to increase the use of seat belts is a case in point.
Despite initial resistance from some members of the public, seat belt use is now widespread and is credited with playing a major role in reducing traffic fatalities.
Another example is the effective combination of RIDE program spot checks with advertising encouraging the public not to drink and drive.
For the public to accept photo radar, enforcement policy must be transparent, reasonable and fair. A zero tolerance approach is not fair and won’t work.
Motorists should not be fined if they are going a couple or few miles over the posted speed limit, nor should they expect a 20-km per hour grace period.
Tolerance levels should be clearly stated and perhaps even posted.
It may be that the province will review the maximum speed limits on provincial highways with a view to raising some of them modestly.
If so, the government needs to satisfy itself that doing so will not impact negatively on highway safety and is consistent with appropriate levels of fuel consumption.
The government may also consider different speed limits for trucks compared to cars.
Any such move would have to be justified on an evaluation of safety factors.
There is a body of research suggesting differential speeds disrupt the flow of traffic from more lane changing and aggressive driving by car drivers trying to get around slower moving trucks.
Still, there are jurisdictions in North America where modest speed differentials are in place. Moreover, in Europe there is a long history of wide differentials between cars and trucks.
Poor lane discipline
The empirical evidence from these jurisdictions should certainly be examined before a decision is taken.
Moreover, at all times, but especially if a speed differential was to exist, greater effort to encourage and enforce lane discipline is needed.
Ontario’s highways are notorious for poor lane discipline.
During the previous experiment, photo radar cameras were set up in vans parked on the shoulder or the side of a road, occupied by an OPP officer.
This seemed to be not only a waste of valuable OPP resources; the vans themselves posed a serious safety problem.
They were a visual distraction and increased the possibility of collisions by blocking the shoulder.
We suggest the vans be abandoned in favour of fixed locations on overpasses, highway signs, or other permanent structures.
A relatively limited number of cameras could be activated at any given time on a rotating basis which would smooth the flow of traffic and avoid the safety risk that occurred when everyone would start jamming on their brakes the instant they saw the van parked beside the road.
OTA takes its role as an advocate for road safety seriously. We are keenly aware of the fact that our industry shares its workplace with the public.
At the same time we know that truck drivers are the safest drivers on the road.
Our support of a properly constituted photo radar program is not aimed at truck drivers. Indeed, truck drivers are not prevalent speeders, though we all know that there are those that do and a small minority that are going way too fast.
Negative reaction possible
And, some of these truck drivers may react negatively to OTA’s position, arguing they are pressured to speed in order to meet ever-increasing shipper demands or to generate enough miles to maximize their wages.
These are real issues for sure, but they will be addressed more effectively if everyone is forced to play by the same rules.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.