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The creeping return of photo radar

Red light cameras are now up-and-running at 140 locations in BC. The provincial government has said the cameras are intended to reduce crashes and make the roads safer. Unsurprisingly, it has been less vocal about its ulterior motive: bringing back photo radar.

The red light camera scheme is like a Trojan horse, but instead of Greek soldiers, it’s harbouring a controversial policy. According to media reports, while the cameras are busy snapping vehicles that run red lights, they will also be watching you. Although they will not be issuing speeding tickets just yet, they will nonetheless be monitoring speed and collecting data.

The government plans to review this data in the fall, which will be used to inform its decision on which cameras should be upgraded to record speed. The cameras will then have the ability to issue tickets for speeding, regardless of whether the light is a green, yellow, or red light.

The BC government knows how unpopular photo radar was when it was implemented by the NDP government in the 1990s. For more about the history of photo radar in BC, click here but suffice it to say it was hated by the public from the day it was implemented.

BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has defended the scheme, saying it is nothing like photo radar but make no mistake, this will be photo radar in all but name. The government knows photo radar has a PR problem, so rather than be honest about its intentions, it has tried to rebrand it and usher it in through a back door. This is despite assurances given by Attorney General David Eby last year that photo radar wouldn’t be making a comeback.

“The red light camera scheme is like a Trojan horse, but instead of Greek soldiers, it’s harbouring a controversial policy.”

Difference with old system

The government has sought to differentiate the new system from the photo radar of the 1990s. It says the new scheme will be more transparent, with the locations of the 140 intersections where the red light cameras have been installed available on the ICBC website. While this is true, it has been less open, however, on other issues such as how many of the 140 locations will be upgraded to measure speed and also what the threshold will be for issuing a speed ticket.

The photo radar program, which ran from 1996 until it was scrapped in 2001 following public outcry, involved unmarked vans in random locations and issued tickets at low-speed thresholds. Despite promising not to place the vans at the bottom of hills or in low traffic areas, they ended up there anyway. Motorists saw it for what it was: a cash grab.

With the government scrambling to quell the “financial dumpster fire” at ICBC you can rest assured it will be looking at any way it can to increase revenues. By removing police officers from the equation, the cameras effectively function as toll machines.

Appeals process

One thing that many drivers will be asking is what rights do they have when it comes to challenging a photo radar speeding ticket. You may be relieved to find out there is an appeals process. People who want to challenge a ticket will have to go through the same process as a regular ticket at traffic court.

After a speed camera at one of the designated intersections has taken a picture of a car,  a ticket will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. Because it cannot tell who the driver is, no points or details of infractions will be added to the driver’s record.

Not having any penalties beyond a fine removes a big incentive to challenge tickets. More people will capitulate and pay up when they receive a ticket simply because they think it would be easier than getting the ticket overturned.

“If you’re driving your Ferrari through that intersection, are you overly concerned about that ticket that doesn’t show up on your driving record?” Paul Doroshenko said. “Really, it’s just the cost of doing business for a lot of people,” he said.

Another flaw in the new system is the lack of a police officer to visually identify the driver. Retired police officer Grant Gottgetreu also questions the validity of speeding tickets issued without an officer present. “You cannot support a radar ticket without a visual estimation,” he said.

The fact that the tickets involve no visual estimation means they are open to challenge in court. Usually, photo radar is used by a police officer to confirm their visual estimation and reasonable belief that someone was going too fast.  In British Columbia, radar is not “stand alone evidence” therefore any speeding ticket coming from a red light camera can be challenged in court.

Issues with red light cameras

Although it may seem like the more attractive part of the new program, the red light cameras themselves are far from perfect. They are intended to make the roads safer by acting as a deterrent against future dangerous behaviour, namely running red lights. They are designed to penalize bad drivers and discourage them from doing it again. But the intended targets of this enforcement are likely to be only a fraction of those who are affected by it. Failure to stop at a red light can cost you $167, and if you are seen and doing it and later identified by a police officer you could also receive two demerit points on your licence.

Anecdotally, there have been problems with the calibration of the devices. Some drivers have reported being flashed as they are making a legal right turn while the light is still red. Regardless of whether or not these drivers eventually receive a ticket in the mail, this can be very distracting and therefore potentially hazardous.

There are also circumstances where it is more dangerous to stop then proceed through the intersection. Semi-trucks for example. By the time a passes through an intersection it may have built up a lot of speed and it could be more of a hazard to stop suddenly. Trying to avoid a red light camera by braking suddenly could lead to a jack-knife. Similarly, might drivers stopped at an intersection be more reluctant to drive out of the way of an emergency vehicle if they are worried about getting a red light ticket.

Is it fair that people who are not necessarily bad drivers will become collateral damage in the government’s war against red light jumpers? And does it really care so long as the money keeps coming in?

Why you should dispute a speeding ticket issued from a red light camera

If you care about your rights as a driver, you cannot let the government get away with things like this. The more this scheme is challenged, the less profitable it becomes and the less likely we are to see photo radar rearing its ugly head once again.

If you want to dispute a ticket issued by a red light camera, you have 30–45 days to submit your dispute depending on whether you received the ticket in person or in the mail. A good first step is contacting a lawyer. They can help you navigate the courts including helping you to submit your dispute and get your court date. If you need to fight a ticket issued by a red light camera, call for a free consultation.