CANMORE – Municipalities across Alberta will have one year to prove photo radar actually improves traffic safety, or risk losing the traffic enforcement tool and the money that comes with it.
An independent third-party review of photo radar operations in Alberta showed it has a “small” contribution to traffic safety and is widely seen by the public as a way to generate revenue.
“I think that photo radar is being used to generate revenue for municipalities and the municipal government to a greater degree than it should be and it is not being optimized to improve safety outcomes on our highways and our roads,” said Brian Mason, minister of transportation.
According to the report, Alberta is a leader in the use of photo radar compared to other jurisdictions, however despite its high level of use, collision rates have decreased in line with other jurisdictions that don’t use photo radar.
The analysis found that photo radar could be directly attributed to reducing collisions rates by 1.4 per cent and fatal collisions by 5.3 per cent, however the “modest” results showed that the current provincial guidelines do not maximize traffic safety outcomes.
“If it’s used at al,l it should be used to improve safety and protect the lives of people who travel on Alberta’s roads, that’s the most important principal,” said Mason during a press conference on Thursday ( Feb. 21). “The second principal is that it should not be used primarily as a revenue generating tool.”
Canmore is one of 27 municipalities across Alberta that currently uses photo radar within its jurisdictions.
In 2016-17, photo radar programs across the province generated $220 million, with 59 per cent of the revenue going to municipalities. Canmore generated $632,000 during that period of time by using photo radar in 52 locations.
To ensure photo radar is being used for the right reasons, Mason said the province intends to change the guidelines governing the use of the traffic enforcement tool, including requiring municipal traffic safety plans to use collision data to ensure photo radar programs are directly tied to safety.
“Any road eventually has an accident, but the question is where do most of the accidents take place and if you ask the police they’ll tell you most severe accidents take place at intersections and yet most photo radar is not deployed at intersections, it’s deployed on long straightaways where people speed,” said Mason.
The province will also prohibit the use of photo radar in transition zones such as adjacent to speed limit signs where speed limits change and prohibit the use of photo radar on high-speed multi-lane roadways unless there is a documented traffic safety issue.
To ensure compliance, the province will require each municipality to provide annual reports about how its photo radar programs are improving traffic safety.
Conventional traffic enforcement, such as police patrols and officers using radar guns, will still be allowed in locations where automated enforcement is prohibited. Radar will also be allowed in school zones, playground zones and construction zones.
While the province is moving ahead with the changes, Mason said the report showed that more work needs to be done before any concrete decisions can be made.
“It’s not a complete and a final report that allows us to make a final conclusion, or a final set of policies,” said Mason. “This is a really good start. We’ve established some fundamental issues and that is photo radar can be in some cases an effective tool to improve safety on our roads, but it is also true that it is not currently being deployed in all cases in order to accomplish that.”
He rejected calls to outright ban photo radar because the data shows there is a significant, although relatively small, improvement in traffic safety.
“I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water,” said Mason. “The report did show that although the impact on safety was relatively small it was real and the conclusion that I drew from that is that if it’s not being deployed right now to maximize safety we can probably get even better outcomes if we insisted that it's done in that way.”
He said the province intends to work with municipalities over the next 12 months to ensure they comply with the new guidelines and can adjust to any financial impact it could have.
“I think in some cases, photo radar in the province of Alberta has been a cash cow and it’s my intention that we are going to humanely put the cash cow down.”