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Photo radar getting stickier?

Tickets being issued with thin margins of error

By: Stu Salkeld

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 06:00 am

TOO RIGID? – A Gazette reader sent this photograph of her City of Edmonton photo radar ticket, which flagged her for travelling 60 kilometres per hour in a 50 zone.
TOO RIGID? – A Gazette reader sent this photograph of her City of Edmonton photo radar ticket, which flagged her for travelling 60 kilometres per hour in a 50 zone.
Supplied photo

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How much over the speed limit can you drive before you get a photo radar ticket?

Apparently, that’s a question that speed enforcement officials aren’t prepared to answer.

A St. Albert Gazette reader recently sent in a photo radar ticket that she received from the City of Edmonton. She was surprised to receive a ticket for driving 60 kilometres per hour in a 50 zone.

It’s a commonly-held assumption among the general public that photo radar, or speed enforcement in general, has built in forgiveness or threshold before a ticket is issued.

For example, many people wouldn’t expect to get a ticket for driving 61 in a 60 zone. Would the City of St. Albert issue a ticket for that infraction?

“No,” said Stu Fraser, supervisor of St. Albert’s peace officer program, Thursday. “Photo radar is not that accurate.”

Fraser said the manufacturers of photo radar equipment themselves are aware of an error rate that is scientifically calculated, and includes such factors as the angle of the photo radar equipment. This error rate is factored into the equipment’s operation.

Does this equate to a tolerance in the photo radar program?

Fraser said nobody wants to talk about that but did say that there are different tolerances for different situations, locations and techniques. For example, a school zone would be a good candidate for zero tolerance.

Fraser also noted such tolerances are discussed regionally by the CRISP organization, the Capital Region Intersection Safety Partnership.

Morinville’s photo radar program has been controversial, and may be eliminated after a petition was recently filed. Town manager Debbie Oyarzun was asked whether a Morinville motorist, driving 61 km/h in a 60 zone, would be sent a ticket.

“No, they would not,” she said Thursday. “That would be too rigid, I would think. There is a margin of error, whether it’s the (offending) vehicle or the ability to catch the speeds.”

Oyarzun noted all photo radar units are calibrated at the beginning of their shifts, so regardless of margin of error, all vehicles monitored are judged by the same standard.

Low tolerance in Edmonton

The City of Edmonton’s executive director of traffic safety Gerry Shimko wouldn’t discuss specific instances of photo radar enforcement, but did say the program tends to focus on areas in the big city where complaints come in about speeding or collisions.

He also said photo radar equipment does have a margin of error but declined to describe any kind of tolerance.

“There’s no one who can counsel someone to speed,” said Shimko.

However, Shimko said it is possible to get a ticket for driving one kilometre per hour over the speed limit.

“You can get a ticket for one kilometre over,” he said. “It’s $57.”

Shimko said Edmonton every year faces about $500 million in costs associated with motor vehicle collisions. Including most surrounding municipalities, the cost jumps to about $1 billion, he said.

Shimko said motorists might not think a few kilometres per hour make much difference, but they can. He noted that a pedestrian struck by a car driving 60 kilometres per hour has only a five per cent chance of surviving whereas a pedestrian struck by a vehicle travelling 50 km/h has a 55 per cent chance of surviving.

He also questioned the idea of speeding of any kind being excused in the community.

“When you took your driver’s license (test), did he allow you to speed?” Shimko asked. “Would it be fair to ask those involved to go back to their insurance companies and say, ‘Would you please insure me because I speed?’”

Shimko noted the City of Edmonton goes out of its way to inform the public about photo radar, and in fact uses other approaches as well, such as signage and speed signs.

“We want people to be successful,” he said.

He said photo radar is effective as a speeding deterrent.

“It is effective, as much as people may not like it.”

While no one contacted by the Gazette was willing to describe the photo radar unit’s margin of error, a Google search provided plenty of information. For example, the City of Scottsdale, Ariz., well-known for its use and support of photo radar enforcement, when asked why it allows a tolerance of 10 miles per hour (16 km/h), answered on its website, “It also provides a reasonable margin of error/grace for inaccurate vehicle speedometers and short-term lapses of attention by otherwise law-abiding and generally cautious drivers.”

When Fraser was asked if he would name a specific photo radar tolerance in St. Albert, he said giving an answer wouldn’t be appropriate.

“We’re trying to discourage speeding, so that’s counter-productive,” he said.


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