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Is photo radar working?

MONTREAL, Que. - Transport Quebec released its evaluation report on the first year of its 18-month photo radar pilot project this Oct. 20. The report concludes that photo radar has been effective in r...

MONTREAL, Que. –Transport Quebec released its evaluation report on the first year of its 18-month photo radar pilot project this Oct. 20. The report concludes that photo radar has been effective in reducing speed and accidents, is accepted by the public and is technically and administratively manageable.

The report makes 51 findings, which are summarized in six areas. Here are some of the findings:

Road safety: There was a significant reduction in Highway Safety Code violations in the 15 locations that make up the pilot project: six fixed photo radar sites, three mobile photo radar police vehicles and six fixed installations that will photograph vehicles that run red lights. In the areas with the stationary photo radar, drivers reduced their speed by an average 12 km/h. Where police operate the mobile photo radar, drivers reduced their speed by an average 9 km/h. There was a 99% reduction in excessive speeding, a 63% reduction in speeding and an 83% reduction in red light violations. (There was, however, a 56% increase in rear-end collisions). There was also a 20-35% reduction in accidents across the 15 locations.

Social acceptability: Eighty per cent of the public support the use of photo radar, consider it to be effective in reducing speed and the number of accidents; 84% believe it is effective in reducing red light violations. The public shares the road safety objectives of the pilot project, which are to make drivers stop at red lights and to obey the speed limits.

Organizational: As set up, the way the pilot project was organized was considered satisfactory to the stakeholders, allowed the pilot project to be executed successfully and for it to continue operating.

Operational: The pilot project was able to manage the nearly 10,000 files generated every month from the 15 locations. That number breaks down to 1,181 mobile site files per month, 7,798 fixed site files per month and 797 files at the red lights per month. Twenty-five per cent of the files were cancelled or rejected by the evidence-processing centre (this is where the information collected by the photo radar equipment is analyzed to check that all the necessary elements for a successful conviction are present). Twenty-five per cent of the violations were contested, but 95% of the drivers who fought their violations in court were found guilty.

Technological: The speed measurements are accurate. The stationary equipment monitored 92% of all the passing vehicles and the mobile equipment was able to monitor over 80% of the vehicles that passed. The report concluded that data was secure. The report did note that the technology is difficult to install, requires considerable expertise to operate, and requires regular maintenance.

Financial: It cost about $250,000 to purchase and install the equipment. From the start date on Aug. 19, 2009 to the end of the fiscal year on March 31, 2010, more than $6.1 million was collected and deposited into a Highway Safety Fund; this money is being used to fund road safety and road accident victim programs and measures, according to Transport Quebec. The overhead; ie., equipment, police, administration, runs to about $75 per file. The report predicts that the project will be self-funding.

Passenger vehicle drivers were responsible for most of the traffic violations. Commercial truck drivers came out looking very good: they committed an average of just 40 violations per month, for a total of 360 in the first year.

Concerns by the trucking industry that tickets would end up at the doorsteps of trailer owners, not the tractor owners, seemed to have been addressed. Photographs of the front and rear plates are taken, and those taken of tractors are used to identify their owners; 19.7% of the heavy vehicle tickets were contested.

One feature of the pilot project is that the owner of a ticketed ve- hicle, if not the driver at the time of the infraction, can write in the name of the person who was driving it. On average, 11% of vehicle owners did this, but for heavy trucks, this figure rose to 24%.

The report acknowledges that questions remain to be answered. They include: how photo radar sites can be better chosen to be more effective; how an enlarged program should be organized to operate effectively in processing a larger number of files; and whether different equipment should be considered for Quebec’s particular environment. The report is available on the Transport Quebec Web site, in French. The pilot project will run till Feb. 18, 2011, or longer.

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