Photo radar 2.0 coming to B.C., aiming to reduce ICBC claims

B.C.’s solicitor general grew visibly heated as he emphatically tried to distance his government’s announcement of image-based speed enforcement from the wildly unpopular photo radar program scrapped in 2001.  “No, it’s not photo radar!” insisted Mike Farnworth at the legislature. “It’s gauging speed to get an understanding of the speed people are going through intersections. And that’s going to help determine if there are things we need to change to make sure intersections are safer.”

The original photo radar program employed pairs of police officers operating equipment to photograph vehicles violating the speed limit, mailing photo evidence of the infraction with the ticket. The system was widely criticized for being too expensive, inefficient and rife with error.

The press release announcing the implementation of the new program prefers to refer to “activating [Intersection Safety Cameras] for speed enforcement,” saying it’ll take months to determine which intersections will see the upgraded red-light camera program, which can “identify and ticket the fastest vehicles.”

“One of the things we want to get a sense of is just how fast are people going through intersections,” said Farnworth.

But CTV News reviewed sample red-light violation tickets on ICBC’s website, which show surveillance images outlining not just whether drivers were in an intersection while prohibited — but also clearly itemizing the speed the vehicle in question was doing at the time.

The press release also detailed data gathered using the speed-gauging capabilities of the red-light cameras.

But the NDP insists this is an entirely different program than the one abolished by the Liberals 17 years ago.  “This approach is more transparent than the provincial photo radar program that ended in 2001,” reads the release. “It used unmarked vans in random locations, issued tickets at low speeding thresholds and tied up police resources with two officers staffing each van.”

Neither the minister nor the press release said exactly when the new program would be implemented, or at which intersections. It is unclear what speed threshold would trip the photo and corresponding ticket.

Drivers informally polled by CTV News were evenly divided between lauding the program as a good way to punish bad drivers and criticizing the province for a cash grab to bail out the floundering public auto insurer.  “I think ICBC has poor management skills and their financial deficit is their issue,” said one woman. “I think they’re looking upon things like photo radar to get them out of the situation they got themselves into and I don’t really think that’s the answer.”

ICBC insists the modernized photo radar system will benefit all drivers in the province.

“The pressure on ICBC’s insurance rates starts in one place – the rapid increase in the number of crashes occurring around our province, more than 900 per day,” said board chair Joy McPhail. “We believe this road safety enhancement will have a positive impact on reducing some of the most serious crashes occurring at some of the highest-risk crash intersections in B.C.”

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