By Colin Craig
Plain and simple, people shouldn’t speed through construction zones.
As Saskatchewan residents saw last year, such risky behavior can come with a tragic consequence – the loss of life.
To address road safety in construction zones the government has hiked speeding fines and plans to hire a private photo radar company to take photos of drivers who speed through the zones. The photo radar company will then send the owner of each speeding vehicle a ticket in the mail a couple weeks later.
But is that really the best option for improving safety?
If one of your friends or loved ones was working in a construction zone, and a driver was approaching at a rapid pace, wouldn’t you want that driver pulled over? But private photo radar companies don’t pull dangerous drivers over; again, they just snap photos.
Not to mention, when a speeder is pulled over by a real police officer, other drivers can see the flashing lights for miles away and then slow down as well. Photo radar programs don’t have that deterrent.
When police or provincial transport officers pull drivers over, they can also determine if the driver is drunk, on drugs or driving a stolen vehicle. Photo radar companies can’t pick up on those hazards either.
Another advantage of using real police is the speeding driver actually gets the ticket. Conversely, photo radar programs send the ticket by mail to the owner of the vehicle; who may not have been the driver when the infraction occurred.
The other obvious concern with photo radar is that weeks could go by between the time the person speeds through the construction zone and the time the ticket arrives in the mail. All the while the offender could go on speeding without feeling the sting of a hefty ticket.
So with all those shortcomings of photo radar programs in mind, why would the government choose photo radar instead of using real police?
Consider why photo radar was canceled in other jurisdictions. British Columbia and Ontario both previously had photo radar programs, but both provinces eventually canceled the programs after citizens grew upset with how the systems turned out to be a cash grab more than anything.
The City of Winnipeg currently has a photo radar program and it too is all about the money. In fact, a report to council in 2012 conceded that using real police could improve enforcement, but cautioned it would reduce the city’s “net revenues” from speeding tickets.
Yes, real police can do a better job of enforcing speed limits, and they can collect enough revenue from tickets each day to cover their salaries, so it’s not a question of police being too expensive. The problem for politicians is that real police don’t produce the extra windfall of cash like photo radar programs provide.
Consider what photo radar watchdog group Wise Up Winnipeg had to say about the program: “without a doubt the photo radar program is a cash grab. Money from photo radar tickets never seems to make its way back into education programs about speeding or better signage.”
One thing is for certain, if the province is looking to balance the budget, they should cut spending, and not try to raise more cash through photo radar. And if it’s safety they’re after, they should use real police officers rather than a photo radar company.
Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.