Photo Radar


Early in his mandate, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty mused about reinstalling photo radar on Ontario's highways, and then immediately and inadvertantly sabotaged the idea.

Photo radar was introduced in Ontario back in 1993 by the NDP government of Bob Rae. I was and remain a supporter, and thought that Mike Harris made a big mistake when he cancelled the project. I have never understood the complaints by opponents that photo radar amounted to an Orwellian suspension of our liberties, any more than having real-live police officers doing the same job. If people are so opposed to paying the speeding fines associated with photo radar, in my opinion they have a clear choice: obey the law like the rest of us. Their argument seems to boil down to, if we can get away with an infraction because a human isn't there to watch us, it is our legal right to break the law.

Actually, that is an oversimplification of their argument. Opponents claim that photo radar is less effective in catching bad drivers than manned police vehicles; that they make no distinction between those who speed and drive safely and those who don't speed but drive aggressively. I've found these arguments to be somewhat illusionary. Aggressive drivers tend to speed. The people who are weaving in and out of their lanes aren't doing so because they're driving at 80 km/h and are dodging the two-tonne missiles of the rest of us, and by having computers watch the speed of the highway, you free up time for the police to focus on other infractions like aggressive driving and tailgating.

I remember Highway 401 during the age of photo radar. To my mind, it was a safer road. More people were driving at the speed limit or close to it (there was a general understanding that photo-radar kicked in after 120 km/h, 20 km/h over the speed limit), and there were fewer accidents and traffic jams. The fact that more people were driving at similar rates of speed actually helped traffic flow, in my opinion. Subsequent studies show that aggressive and speeding drivers tend to cause the very traffic congestion that they're struggling to avoid, and photo radar would have helped speed up the travel times of most drivers by (ironically) slowing the speedier drivers down.

So, yes, I think we should bring back photo radar. If we want to increase compliance and goodwill, then we should go ahead and raise speed limits on our highways to 120 km/h (which is what they are designed for anyway). But for God's sake, Mr. McGuinty, don't (I repeat) don't publically muse about photo radar as a means of dealing with a $5.6 billion provincial deficit.

One of the stronger arguments against photo radar has been that the government is less interested in road safety than it is in taxing speeders, and it's a suspicion that McGuinty confirmed from the get-go, making the venture a non-starter. To my mind, photo radar should not be a cash cow. At best, the revenues generated from the traffic tickets should be barely enough to pay for the photo vans. If there is any economic benefit to be derived from photo radar, it should be in the benefits of having fewer accidents and the increased throughput of the road.

I was going to write all this when McGuinty started musing about photo radar but, by the time I was ready to put fingers to keyboard, the trial balloon had sunk as if it had been made of lead. I write about it now because the municipalities of the GTA have talked about asking the province for the right to install photo radar on their portions of our provincial highways.

Thus far, the GTA mayors have stated that their intent is to improve road safety. I hope that this remains the case so that I can support this measure. If, on the other hand, some mayors talk about using photo radar to try and generate a new revenue source as part of the "new deal for our cities", I will be left to bang my head against a wall.

Weirdest Spam Message Ever

My coworker received the weirdest spam ever. It actually functions quite well as poetry, I find. I asked her to send it to me so I could post it here, and she kindly obliged:

------ Forwarded Message
From: "Badges A. Walgreen" <>
Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2004 10:31:16 -0700
To: Board <>
Subject: KWLT: Board, need medication?

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To say the truth, reason and love keep little company together now-a-days.
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