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driving concerns

Do photo radar devices issue a ticket if one drives 1 km/h over the limit? Or is there a threshold at, say, 5 km/h over before one gets ticketed? – James

If you get caught on camera going even 1 km/h over the limit, you could get a ticket, police say.

But in most cities, you probably have to be going a little faster than that. How much faster? Good question.

For instance, Calgary police say there’s a “reasonable buffer” between the posted speed limit and the speed you have to be going to get a photo radar ticket – but they’re not saying what it is.

“We do not release this speed,” said Lindsay Nykoluk, with Calgary Police public affairs, in an e-mail. “To do so may effectively create the new speed limit.”

In 2020, Calgary Police issued 219,670 photo radar tickets – 50,604 fewer tickets than in 2019.

Calgary police wouldn’t reveal the lowest speed over the limit on those tickets.

In December 2020, the most recent month with available information, the average speed for all photo radar tickets in Calgary was 16 km/h over the limit.

The highest was for 127 km/h in a 60 km/h zone. That’s 67 km/h over the limit.

Police in other provinces wouldn’t say whether there was a specific trigger speed for their photo radar machines.

They say the best way to avoid a speeding ticket is to go the speed limit.

“All I can tell you is that you have to respect the limit,” said Sgt. Marie-Michèle Moore, Sûreté du Québec spokeswoman. “As long as you’re over the limit, you could have a ticket.”

Toronto wouldn’t reveal its threshold either. But in a 2019 interview with Newstalk 1010, Spt. Scott Baptist, head of Toronto police traffic services, said he didn’t expect tickets for cars going 1 km/h over the limit.

“One of the things that’s really, really critical is to maintain public support,” Baptist said. “We need people to understand that (photo radar) is reasonable, it’s not extreme. It’s not a cash grab. We’re trying to get people to actually obey the rules.”

Not so fast?

While photo radar tickets are taken by a machine, the tickets are issued by people, police said.

“Trained and qualified provincially-appointed peace officers review every image to verify that the vehicle is in violation and that the vehicle information is correct,” Calgary Police’s Nykoluk said. “Tickets are mailed to registered owners where it is clear the vehicle committed a speed or red-light infraction.

While photo radar tickets come with the same fine as tickets handed out by police, they don’t come with demerits or go on your driving record.

That’s because they can’t prove who was driving. They just see your licence plate.

There’s some evidence that photo radar keeps people from speeding. A 2017 study by University of Alberta researchers showed that the presence of photo-radar vans in Edmonton cut speeding by 19 per cent, even after the vans were gone.

But a 2018 government review found that photo radar generated about $220 million a year in revenue while reducing overall collisions by about 1.4 per cent.

In December 2019, Ontario approved new rules allowing cities to use automated speed cameras.

Toronto started issuing photo radar tickets in July last year. By the end of November, it issued more than 53,000 photo radar tickets.

It looks like the tickets are slowing people down. The city said the number of tickets decreased every month – for instance, there were more than 22,300 tickets in July, but only 5174 in October.

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