Why Photo Radar?

So why does the City of Edmonton use photo radar? That question keeps bubbling up in Edmonton, as predictable as snow on Halloween.

You’ve probably noticed the vans parked on commuter routes across the City.  You may also see them near elementary schools, now that the new 30 km/hr speed limits are in place.

The reason the City of Edmonton uses photo radar is that it is a proven method to get speeders to slow down and thus reduce preventable collisions.

“The question is not how effective is photo radar at saving lives, it’s how can we make it more effective to save even more lives,” says Dr. Karim El-Basyouny, the City of Edmonton’s Research Chair in Urban Traffic Safety at the University of Alberta.

Professor El-Basyouny just completed a study looking at what happened to collision statistics on the arterial roads where Edmonton used automated photo enforcement (aka photo radar) from 2005-2013.

Dr. El-Basyouny found that on the roads where there was continuous enforcement, severe collisions went down by 32%, speed-related collisions were reduced by 27% and overall collisions were cut by 28%.

You may not think that a ticket in the mail actually makes you slow down.  But it does.  Research shows you’re more likely to obey a law if you know you’ll be punished when you break it.

In fact, for many of us just seeing the van is enough to get us to slow down, even if the radar is pointed at traffic going in the other direction. Dr. El-Basyouny calls this the “spillover effect”.

Dr. El-Basyouny’s paper is right now under review for publication in the Transportation Research Record, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal on traffic safety.  It’s not a general reesarch study about the potential impact of photo radar on driver behaviour.  It’s an Edmonton study based on Edmonton traffic statistics.  And the evidence is irrefutable.

“The outrage in the media about photo radar is not substantiated,”  says El-Basyouny.

Some people say that automated enforcement is just a revenue generator for municipal coffers. This criticism applies to any municipality, not just Edmonton; what’s more, you could apply the same logic to any municipal bylaw that’s routinely enforced.  But in Edmonton we do things a little bit differently, in that revenue from photo radar can only be spent on traffic safety programs, not on general City expenses.

If you get a ticket in the mail, you’ll get a copy of a traffic safety flyer too, which includes some eye-popping facts. For example, did you know that the risk of a collision doubles at 5 km/h over the speed limit in a 60 km/h zone?  The risk is four times higher at 10 km/h over and 10 times higher at 15 km/h over the speed limit.

Automated Photo Enforcement can’t make distracted drivers pay attention.  It can’t force tailgaters to back off.  But it can remind all of us to slow down and drive more carefully.  After all, a recent EPS survey indicates speeding/careless driving is the number one public safety concern of Edmontonians.