Municipalities across Ontario rely increasingly on speed cameras to keep unruly drivers in check.
Toronto has been rotating locations of its cameras since 2020 and has installed 50 or so city-wide. Mississauga put in 14 new cameras between August and September of this year. Brampton’s Mayor Patrick Brown was on CityNews to promote his city’s push for creating 50 new cameras by the end of 2020.
With millions being spent to install them, the question needs to be asked, do they even work?
How do speed cameras work?
Speed cameras, or Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) as they are known in Ontario, are installed with one specific goal: to change driver behaviour. They do this by using a diverse set of mechanisms. But they all have particular things in common:
- First, they have some sort of electronic means for measuring speed.
- Second, a camera takes a photo of the car and license plate.
- Third, they are placed in a prominent position with accompanying signage so drivers can be aware of them.
- Finally, drivers caught speeding face financial penalties and even a summons if fines are not paid by a deadline.
Each of those commonalities is deployed in different ways. These can include:
- Radar or laser beams.
- Dual camera systems face in opposite directions to measure how quickly the car moves between two points.
- Placing them at ground level for ease of access by maintenance workers.
- Putting them inside guard rails on highways in some cases.
- Parking mobile ones that are housed inside vans.
- Installing them on high gantries to cover as many lanes as possible.
Why do we see more speed cameras?
There is no one reason governments are increasingly leaning on ESAs. Instead, many factors are pushing cities to go the route of speed cameras over other effective measures like traffic calming (physical changes to the streetscape that force slowing down). These factors include:
- The sheer number of cars on the road. Between 1999 and 2019, there was a 44.3 percent increase in car ownership in Ontario. More cars, more speeding.
- While traffic calming effectively reduces speeds, they don’t earn revenue for the government. Speeds cameras do.
- They are a cheap, easy, and visible solution that shows the voter that their government is taking their concerns seriously.
- They keep taxes down by gathering revenue through other means while maintaining service levels.
- They free up police resources, as patrol cars can be used for other things.
Do speed cameras actually work?
In a nutshell, yes. Hefty fines burn holes in drivers’ pockets, thus incentivizing people to slow down. A meta-analysis of studies examining speed cameras by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) found that speed cameras reduced injuries by between 20 and 25 percent. They also found that speed cameras reduced total crashes between eight and 49 percent and fatal crashes by 11 percent to 44 percent. In the first months of installing 50 new cameras, Toronto caught 53,000 violators. It is easy to conclude that ESAs are an effective tool for combating speed.
However, they are not perfect. Residents who are used to seeing speed cameras may memorize their location and take a detour to their destination to speed with impunity. Cities do employ a workaround for this. They go through the time and expense to move the cameras. For example, Toronto moved its cameras five times between July 2021 and May 2022.
They also don’t account for driver apathy. Some less concerned drivers will simply damn the consequences and keep blazing past cameras without a care in the world. One Toronto nogoodnik was ticketed 12 times in a month in 2020. Given what we know about the statistics, there appears to be a limit to the power of ESAs.
Many speed cameras are also placed at intersections, doubling as red light cameras. Since drivers will, hopefully, be coming to a stop at lights anyway, why put in speed cameras specifically?
Where do we go from here?
While speed cameras are an effective tool to get drives to slow down, they only work to an extent. Without proper traffic calming accompanying electronic enforcement, ESAs can only do some much. The very environment itself must be harnessed to disincentivize drives from speeding.