Mobile Photo Radar Cameras Eliminated in Strathcona County, Alberta

Update: see previous posts – November 21, 2010 Photo Radar – Ontario Liberals are Re-Introducing it into the Highway Traffic Act, November 7, 2010 Photo Radar et al, October 21, 2010 Photo Radar In Quebec, September 18, 2010 The “Radar Project”, September 6, 2010 – School is Back – Slow Down and Be Cautious,  September 2, 2010 Toronto – Radar Trap Central ,   August 27, 2010 Photo Radar in Scarborough,  June 8, 2010 Photo Radar Cost Police their Website, September 6, 2009 – School Buses: Stopping for them Saves Lives

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In Strathcona County, the county council meeting decided to hire five (5) new full time Peace Officers, while simultaneously eliminating the two mobile photo radar cameras.

At the September 13, 2011 Strathcona County council meeting, Coun. Brian Botterill got his wish — and the wish of vocal residents — to cease the operation of mobile photo radar cameras in Sherwood Park.

Councillor Botterill had brought the issue forward as a notice of motion at a previous council meeting. The issue sparked more than two hours of debate and a split vote from council before the motion was passed.

“It was a lengthy debate we needed to have, and I think we made the right decision in the end,” he said. “I think we’ll see much safer roads through this process. We’ll see our most dangerous drivers start to have their insurance increase, and some of them will even have licence suspensions through this process.”

From left to right: Strathcona County - Councillor Bonnie Riddell, Councillor Roxanne Carr, Councillor Jason Gariepy, Mayor Linda Osinchuk, Councillor Peter Wlodarczak, Councillor Vic Bidzinski, Councillor Brian Botterill, Councillor Jacquie Fenske, Councillor Linton Delainey

Motorists on highways: Highway 216, Highway 21, Highway 14 will no longer have to look out for the vans that contained the mobile photo radar cameras.

This motion will only cease the operation of mobile photo radar at this time, not intersection cameras or utility box cameras.

In his presentation, Botterill stated that while photo radar can issue a high volume of tickets, it falls short of what any law enforcement officer can do.

“Speed isn’t what’s causing most of our accidents. There’s a lot of other factors which photo radar would never catch,” he said at the meeting.

These factors include distracted driving, impaired driving, and non-licensed drivers.

In addition to preventing the root causes of dangerous collisions, Botterill said tickets issued from an officer provide instant education, opposed to the time delay that follows a mail-issued photo radar ticket. The utilization of officers also means drivers will be hit with demerit points, which can lead to higher insurance premiums.      

In prior consultation with the RCMP, Botterill was advised that five additional Enforcement Services Officers would be an adequate start. They will be implemented by Sept. 1, 2012 at the latest. Budget submissions have not been seen by council yet, but Botterill said additional RCMP officers could also be an option.

“In the event we are able to hire the extra officers faster, as soon as those officers are hired, we’re going to end the photo radar,” Botterill said after the meeting, adding the speed of their implementation depends on their prior experience as peace officers.

Senior bylaw officer Paul Badger said he spends approximately 65 per cent of his time dealing with photo radar complaints.

“Photo radar is a tool. It enables us to enforce speed limits in the county,” Insp. Gary Steinke of Strathcona County RCMP said. “It’s a tool that allows me to take my officers away from speed enforcement and put them in areas that are of greater concern.”

The cost of removing photo radar from the budget is about $400,000. The total cost for Strathcona County’s photo radar contract last year was approximately $890,000, while hiring five new Enforcement Services officers would cost approximately $590,000. The current photo radar contract expires on Sept. 30, and Botterill said it will continue on a month-to-month basis until officers are hired or until Sept. 1, 2012.

Steinke said the issue is not about cost, but ensuring traffic safety in the county.

Unlike RCMP officers, Enforcement Services officers are only able to enforce highway traffic offenses, and will deal primarily with traffic laws and safety. If they come across a criminal offence, such as impaired driving, they are able to pull the vehicle over, but must call the RCMP to lay the charge.

Botterill said Enforcement Services officer vehicles are equipped with the same in-car system the RCMP use for scanning licence plates, so they are able to recognize stolen vehicles and pull that vehicle over and contact the RCMP.

One offence Enforcement Services officers can deal with directly is distracted driving, since it falls under the Highway Traffic Act. Botterill said distracted driving accounts for approximately 20 to 30 per cent of all injury collisions.

Coun. Jason Gariepy suggested looking into school and park zones being specific locations for photo radar at a later date. He also raised concerns about Granada Boulevard.

“I feel this location has been badly abused as a photo radar location,” he said. “The number of complaints I’ve received and the number of cases that go to the court system are unusually high and because of that we need to take a serious look at photo radar.”

During the debate, Coun. Roxanne Carr tried to postpone Botterill’s motion to January 2012 in order to gather more information.

“It is looking like council is on a journey from zero to 60 in moments without due diligence,” she said. “I am deeply saddened that we won’t have a chance to question a report given to us by administration.”

“When you get a driver’s licence, it’s not a right, it’s a privilege,” said Coun. Peter Wlodarczak, who is a former RCMP officer and was torn by the motion. “By delaying it, all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable.”

In favour of Botterill’s motion to eliminate the mobile photo radar were Coun. Vic Bidzinski, Botterill, Coun. Jacquie Fenske, Gariepy and Mayor Linda Osinchuk. Opposed were Carr, Coun. Linton Delainey, Wlodarczak and Coun. Bonnie Riddell.

Here is a copy of the report that the Strathcona County council meeting reviewed before making the decision to eliminate mobile photo radar and to hire five (5) full time Enforcement Services Officers:

Council Meeting Date: September 13, 2011
Agenda Item #: 8.1
Traffic Safety Recommendation

THAT Council direct Administration to:
1. Cease operation of mobile speed cameras;
2. Increase the complement of Enforcement Services Officers by 5 FTE to not only replace the mobile speed cameras, but further increase safety; and
3. Request Enforcement Services collaborate with Traffic Engineering to maximize intersection safety, while minimizing red light infractions (i.e. will increasing amber times increase safety while minimizing accidents?).

August 30, 2011 – Councillor Brian Botterill served Notice that the above
motion would be presented for debate at the next Council meeting.

Mobile Speed Cameras:
Last year, Strathcona County’s photo enforcement contract cost over $890,000. Hiring 5 more Enforcement Services Officers would cost just over $590,000. This would help Strathcona County save hundreds of thousands of dollars from our municipal budget.

Also, by replacing mobile speed cameras with officers, infractions other than speeding can be enforced. Photo radar cannot catch: stolen vehicles, drivers without licenses or insurance, drivers with outstanding warrants, or intoxicated drivers.
A Peace Officer also is a better education tool for motorists as the officer can inform a mistaken motorist of the speed limit immediately.

This will prevent situations which sometimes occur such as a driver receiving more than one ticket from the same photo radar van.
Finally, demerits which are issued with a ticket given by a Peace Officer also provide a much better incentive to modify driver behavior as these can lead to higher insurance costs, and eventually license suspension.

Document #: EO.0550.50017.1

Red Light Cameras:
In regards to red light infractions, see this quote by Sgt. Jon Butcher of the Winnipeg Police Service, who now works for ACS (our photo enforcement contractor), “Adjusting Amber Lights Would Ruin The Photo Enforcement Program”. Sgt. Butcher was referring to the fact that by increasing the amber light time, and providing motorists a longer chance to stop prior to entering an intersection, tickets would be drastically reduced.

Also, by raising amber times by 30% the number of motorists entering on red lights decreased dramatically. In Mesa, Arizona the drop was 73% and in Maryland the red light running “Problem ‘virtually eliminated’”. This information is from a report of the United States House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s office located here:

Finally, a quote from WiseUp Winnipeg, “At the request of a red-light camera opponent, Caltrans studied vehicle speeds approaching the south Fremont intersection of Mission and Mohave Boulevards and based on the evidence collected, Caltrans extended amber light times from the minimum-allowed 4.3 seconds to 5 seconds.

Although safety was the main concern, the most measurable change thus far has been the sudden 62% drop in red-light tickets at the approach. Last year this intersection accounted for nearly one in five of all camera-enforced tickets issued in Fremont.”

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