Toronto: Police Speed Traps Rake in the Dough When Limits Are Too Low: The Fixer

Update: see previous posts – July 9, 2012 Radar Traps in Toronto, July 3, 2012 Texas Woman Arrested for Warning Drivers About Speed Trap, November 19, 2011 Auto Insurance Increases After Speeding Ticket Conviction (15 km/h over – No demerit points), September 11, 2011 Warning Other Driver’s of Radar Traps is Legal in Ontario, July 20, 2011 Guelph Man Ticketted After Warning Other Driver’s of Police Radar, December 28, 2010 Texas Man Warns Motorists of Upcoming Radar Traps, November 21, 2010 Photo Radar – Ontario Liberals are Re-Introducing it into the Highway Traffic Act, September 2, 2010 Toronto – Radar Trap Central, December 26, 2009 Revealing radar traps to other Motorists, is this act illegal?

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Police officer writing up a speeding ticket for the operator of a vehicle that he picked up on his radar unit.. Speed limits are often set 10 to 15 kph lower than they should be, which means drivers moving at the natural speed of traffic are an easy target for a cop with a radar gun, says traffic safety expert James Walker.
Police officer writing up a speeding ticket for the operator of a vehicle that he picked up on his radar unit.. Speed limits are often set 10 to 15 kph lower than they should be, which means drivers moving at the natural speed of traffic are an easy target for a cop with a radar gun, says traffic safety expert James Walker.

No wonder police can hand out speeding tickets at their favourite fishing holes as fast as they can pull over drivers.

Speed limits are often set 10 to 15 kph lower than they should be, which means drivers moving at the natural speed of traffic are an easy target for a cop with a radar gun, says traffic safety expert James Walker.

Our columns about speed traps in places where traffic is likeliest to move faster than the limit caught the attention of Walker, a board member of the National Motorists Association.

Police officer writes up a speeding ticket for a motorist caught in a radar trap
Police officer writes up a speeding ticket for a motorist caught in a radar trap. It was reported in 2010, that Toronto had the highest number of radar traps (at 277) out of every city in Canada and even more than U.S. cities New York  and Los Angeles combined.

The association surveys drivers each year about speed trap locations and found that Toronto had more in 2010 than any city in North America.

Walker, who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., worked with Michigan State Police on revising speed limits and has testified before state legislative committees to explain the science behind traffic movement.

Radar mounted on tripod, waiting for vehicles to come into its' path
Radar mounted on tripod, waiting for vehicles to come into its’ path

He emailed to say “your article on speeding as a tax is right on the money,” noting the NMA has fought for 30 years against speed limits that are set too low.

“The basic problem is the deliberate posting of speed limits well below the safest point, the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions,” he said.

“If the posted speed limits were at the 85th percentile levels, rounded to the nearest 10 kph interval, speed traps would not be lucrative to operate and would almost cease to occur.”

In a blog on the NMA website, Walker wrote that the state police conducted speed studies in 2006 on several state routes in Ann Arbor, where it controls speed limits.

Despite pushback from the city, which passed a resolution opposing higher speed limits, state police increased them in 2008. After allowing drivers to adjust, traffic was clocked to see if it moved faster than before the limit was raised.

“Actual travel speeds changed by a maximum of 2 mph in some parameters, not at all in others, and some speed points were lower. The actual traffic speeds remained the same as they have for 23 years.

“One thing did change. The vast majority of safe, sane, competent drivers who go along with the normal flow of traffic are no longer arbitrarily defined as criminals, and no longer subject to big ticket fines and even bigger insurance surcharges.”

Walker says speed limits in Canada and the U.S. are lower than they should be, due to pressure on local politicians from communities and easy revenue from tickets.

“Setting 50 kph where it should be 60, or 60 where it should be 70, reduces safety overall but is very profitable if enforced for revenue. Police pick the ‘sweet spots,’ where virtually all vehicles travelling under good conditions are above the limit by 11-plus kph, and the money rolls in.

“It is a racket, not a safety program.”

Close-up of the LIDAR radar unit that are used at radar traps
Close-up of the LIDAR radar unit that are used at most radar traps in Toronto

We’ll be asking city transportation officials for their side later this week. And don’t forget to let us know about locations of police fishing holes, so we can create a map that identifies them.

A speed limit sign - in this case, 50 km/h.  If street speed limit signs are not posted in Toronto, it generally means that the speed limit on that street is 50 Kilometres per Hour
A speed limit sign – in this case, 50 km/h. If street speed limit signs are not posted in Toronto, it generally means that the speed limit on that street is 50 Kilometres per Hour

 

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One thoughtful comment

  1. This science is relative, evidenced by “the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions”. This “traffic safety expert” James Walker is an executive director of the “National Motorists Association Foundation”, “the #1 resource for educational materials relating to fighting unjust traffic tickets” (motorists.org); he can be both, but it doesn’t look good.

    A problem with the law is that it must be obeyed. Regardless of math or experts, unless the law is changed, anyone driving faster than the speed limit is disobeying the law. However, this doesn’t make the law any less arbitrary. The reason for the law’s problems is people.

    Walker may be conflicted, but government collecting revenue from arbitrary limits it imposes is also a conflict of interest. Maybe traffic law should be periodically determined publicly by a national counsel made up of political representatives, safety experts, automotive designers & testers, statisticians, engineers, and law & rights experts, which could publish to peer review. Even without power to determine speed limits, such a counsel’s authoritative evidence would prove or discredit Walker’s argument.

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