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A speed camera monitors traffic outside the Givins/Shaw Public School on in Toronto on Feb. 3, 2020.

Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

I honked as the man in the Buick sped through the red light. In response, the lean 70-year-old slowed in the middle of the intersection and rolled down his window. Was he about to apologize? No, mustering all the vim and vigour he had when he was a young creep in his twenties, Jerk the Elder hurled a swear at me. He was wearing a peaked cap, as if he was auditioning for the role of “Bad Driver #1” in some HBO drama.

Alas, it wasn’t captured on photo radar – pardon me – “automated speed enforcement.” So, it doesn’t matter. Canada loves photo radar. Most provinces employ it. There is photo-radar technology designed to penalize those who speed, run red lights and drive dangerously around schools. It’s used to change people’s driving habits.

Ontario, which has flirted with photo radar since the 1990s, is the most recent addition to the club. The results have been startling. On Stanley Avenue in Toronto, 2,888 tickets were issued in the month of December alone. The road, which allows drivers to avoid a crowded part of Lake Shore Boulevard West, accounted for 13 per cent of the city’s photo-radar tickets.

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Then again, if Canada was adopting Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), my encounter at the red light and those Stanley Avenue speeding tickets might never have happened at all.

Intelligent Speed Assistance technology automatically stops drivers from exceeding the speed limit. In 2022, thanks to an EU General Safety Regulation, all vehicles produced in the EU will be required to have ISA. The regulation defines ISA as a system that makes a driver “aware through the accelerator control, or through dedicated, appropriate and effective feedback, that the applicable speed limit is exceeded.” The driver can override the system at any time. According to The Guardian, road-safety advocates say ISA will save 25,000 European lives by 2037.

The European Transport Safety Council defines three variations of ISA.

  • Speed Control Alone – This can be found in the European Ford Focus, Galaxy and S-Max. The vehicle cuts engine torque once the speed limit is reached, unless the driver deliberately overrides the system by pushing down substantially on the accelerator pedal.
  • Haptic Pedal – A force-feedback system makes it more “difficult to push down on the accelerator pedal once the speed limit has been reached.”
  • Speed Control with Vibrating Pedal – Along with speed control, the accelerator pedal vibrates once the speed limit had been exceeded.

Think of it this way: photo radar records the crime. ISA can stop the crime before it happens.

It’s odd, therefore, that instead of following the EU example and pushing car manufacturers in North America to implement universal ISA, provincial governments are busy getting excited about 1990s-era photo-radar technology. Why? Money? A picture is worth a thousand dollars (or $181 if you’re going over 10 km/h over the speed limit in Manitoba). Photo radar makes money. In Alberta between 2016-17, photo radar earned $38.1-million for Calgary and $50.8-million for Edmonton.

There is plenty of solid scientific evidence from peer-reviewed journals showing photo radar reduces accidents and fatalities. In Quebec in 2016, automated speed enforcement caused average speeds to drop by 13.3 km/h and reduced crashes by 15 to 42 per cent at photo-radar sites.

There is also some evidence that casts doubt. A 2018 independent review for the Albertan government found that photo radar makes “a small contribution to traffic safety in the province, but is not being used in a way to maximize traffic safety.” Over a ten-year period in Alberta, photo radar was responsible for a 1.4-per-cent reduction in traffic-collision rates and 5.3-per-cent reduction in the proportion of fatal collisions. In 2019, the Albertan government put a freeze on new photo-radar equipment, upgrades or locations.

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The problem with photo radar has always been whether the increased safety warrants the invasion of privacy. It catches those who speed but can also record all the rest who are law-abiding. We can make our society very safe by putting cameras everywhere and filming everything. Lots of totalitarian regimes do just that. Does the money we make and the lives we save justify ushering in a surveillance society?

ISA makes that question irrelevant. It doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy, and it will save many more lives. Is it fun to drive with? I doubt it. I’m sure it takes some getting used to, but then again, so did mandatory seatbelts. What do we have to lose?

Look, I know that there is nothing more Canadian than staring adversity in the face and steadfastly doing nothing. But we can change. We need to stop solving today’s traffic problems with yesterday’s solutions. We don’t cure syphilis anymore by applying mercury to the genitals, so why should we try to save lives by relying so heavily on photo radar when we have advanced technology that is so much more effective?

All we have to do is be innovative.

I promise you Canada, it won’t hurt a bit.

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