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Mobility If Ontario is increasing speed limits, will photo radar be back on highways?

Speed photo enforced - sign on the expressway.

Henryk Sadura/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

I have family in Alberta and when I go back, I’m amazed at how most cars stick to the speed limit wherever there are signs for photo radar. Nobody, including me, likes getting a ticket, but with photo radar, you don’t get pulled over, you don’t get demerits and your insurance rates don’t go up. If the Ontario government is really going to increase speed limits, will they consider photo radar to make sure drivers don’t just go 20 kilometres an hour over the new limit? – Marc, Ottawa

Smile, speeders. Despite research showing that photo radar slows drivers down, speed cameras aren’t coming to Ontario highways.

“The province will not bring back photo radar on provincial highways,” Bob Nichols, Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Photo radar on provincial highways would be nothing more than a cash grab.”

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The province announced last week that it will be testing 110 kilometre-an-hour limits on three sections of 400-series highways, starting in September.

Along with the pilot, the province will be consulting the public on how to better enforce highway speed limits, Nichols said. But photo radar won’t be on the table.

In 1995, then-premier Mike Harris’s Conservative government scrapped an 11-month photo radar pilot – on 400-series highways that netted $16-million in fines from 224,000 tickets – put in by the previous NDP government.

In Ontario in 2017, there were 476,846 convictions for speeding – that’s without photo radar.

Cash grab?

The phrase “cash grab” – along with “cash cow” – comes up a lot when politicians talk about speed cameras.

When Ontario’s Liberal government passed a law allowing photo radar in school zones in 2017, the Conservatives called it a “cash grab.” But Premier Doug Ford’s current Conservative government has kept the law. (Toronto had expected to introduce photo radar in school zones later this year after a pilot last year, but no date has been set yet, the city said.)

British Columbia’s Liberals axed photo radar after they got elected in 2001, a decision that a 2016 report said contributed to a spike in fatalities in 2002.

And while red-light cameras are set to start nabbing speeders in B.C. this summer, the province insists it’s not photo radar.

Other provinces that kept speed cameras have seen snags. In 2016, a Quebec judge ruled that photo radar evidence was inadmissible, effectively shutting down that province’s program until the law was changed.

And, next month, Alberta will ban photo radar on multilane highways unless there’s proof of safety concerns.

That was part of changes to the law that came after a third-party report showed that photo radar generates about $220-million a year in revenue while reducing overall collisions by about 1.4 per cent and fatal collisions by 5.3 per cent.

“It’s my intention that we are going to humanely put the cash cow down,” then-NDP transportation minister Brian Mason said at a news conference last February.

Fewer speeders?

Critics say photo radar, especially when drivers don’t know it’s there, is like shooting fish in a barrel.

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“We object to photo enforcement on highways because divided highways are the safest roads known to man and there are no children or pedestrians walking on them,” said Chris Klimek, founder of Stop 100, a group advocating for higher speeds on Ontario highways. “If they have to do photo radar in school zones, we don’t object to visible photo radar – which is the case in Norway and Sweden – where there’s a visible unit and a clear sign.”

There’s some evidence that photo radar keeps people from speeding. For instance, a 2017 study by University of Alberta researchers showed that photo radar cut speeding rates by 19 per cent.

And, a 2013 report by the Royal Automobile Club Foundation in Britain showed that fatal and serious collisions dropped between 25 per cent and 46 per cent at the camera sites they studied, while personal-injury collisions fell 9 per cent to 22 per cent.

In Alberta, photo radar is working “very well,” and should be considered in Ontario along with higher speed limits, said Mohamed Hussein, an assistant professor of civil engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“People want to speed – let’s be honest, if I can drive 130 km/h and save half an hour, I’d be very happy, but where’s the safety?” Hussein said. “Research shows that collisions above 120 km/h lead to more serious injuries and more fatalities.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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