Toronto to get more red-light cameras as part of road safety plan
Last week, Toronto officials announced plans that could see the number of cameras, currently installed at 77 locations across the city, effectively doubled.
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Toronto’s red-light camera program is headed for a major expansion, a year after the devices appear to have resulted in a record number of charges against drivers.
Last week, Toronto officials announced plans that could see the number of cameras, currently installed at 77 locations across the city, effectively doubled. The expansion is being billed as part of the city’s new $80-million road safety plan, which Mayor John Tory has championed with the aim of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries.
“I think the objective here is to get people to slow down and drive safely in school zones, seniors zones, places like that, to stop this carnage that’s been happening on the roads and to get (the number of traffic deaths) down to zero,” Tory said at a press conference last Tuesday, speaking in support of the cameras.
Last year, 77 drivers, car passengers, pedestrians and cyclists were killed on Toronto’s streets, the highest number of traffic fatalities in more than a decade.
According to city transportation data obtained by Torstar News Service, the red-light cameras, which allow authorities to remotely catch and ticket drivers who run red lights, were on track last year to net the most charges in any year since the program began.
The data covers the period from 2007 to the end of November 2016. Extrapolated through to the end of last year, the numbers indicate the program was on track for 36,230 red-light charges in 2016, which would be a 23.7-per-cent increase over 2015 and 3.6 per cent more than the previous high of 34,969 charges recorded in 2012.
The intersection with the most charges last year was Bathurst St. and Davenport Rd., which netted 2,490 tickets during the first 11 months of 2016. It displaced the previous top hot spot, Bayview Ave. and Truman Rd., which produced 1,885 tickets. Jane St. and Clair Rd. was third, with 1,225 tickets.
(All the numbers refer to permanent red-light cameras. Between 2000 and 2012, the city also had a smaller number of temporary cameras that were rotated between several intersections.)
Before 2016, the number of charges from the devices had decreased for three years in a row. Although the number of drivers being charged for running red lights is on the rise, city officials maintain that the cameras are effective in reducing crashes.
“Fortunately, a collision does not occur every time someone runs a red light,” said a spokesperson for transportation services.
A 2015 city report found that the cameras reduced the number of angle collisions — which are often indicative of red-light running — that caused injuries by 37 per cent, and those that caused death were cut by 40 per cent. The number of rear-end collisions resulting in property damage actually increased 27 per cent after the cameras were introduced, but rear-end crashes resulting in injuries fell.
Roger Browne, manager of the city’s traffic safety unit, said the cameras have been “instrumental in helping to reduce collisions which, ultimately means preventing injuries and saving lives.”
He added that there has also been a “halo effect” in which drivers are more cautious in the vicinity of red-light cameras, so that angle collisions at adjacent intersections have also been reduced.
As part of the planned expansion, the city intends to install the devices at 76 new locations early this year. It will also review the existing camera locations to determine whether to maintain them. Officials say they’re not sure how many of the existing cameras they will keep, but if most of them are retained, the size of the program would almost double.
The fine for running a red light is $325, which includes a $60 victim surcharge and $5 court cost. The city keeps $260 from each charge while the province collects the rest. Browne said revenue from the program totals about $7 million a year, while the cameras cost $2.3 million to operate.
Because the cameras can’t verify who was driving the vehicle at the time of the infraction, the fines are sent to the owner of the vehicle and no demerit points are issued.
Although the cameras generate a profit, Tory stressed last week that the program is about preventing collisions, not padding municipal coffers. “As far as I’m concerned if they produced zero in terms of net revenue I would still be happy,” he said.
Michael Black, co-founder of pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto, said the money the cameras generate is definitely a plus.
“The beauty of safety cameras is they’re very effective and they also pay for themselves,” he said.
Black argued there are many elements of the road safety plan, which includes lower speed limits and turning prohibitions, that “simply won’t work without enforcement,” and that automated technology is the best way to make sure drivers follow the rules. A single camera can monitor an intersection much more effectively than a police officer — and at significantly lower cost.
Elliott Silverstein, manager of government relations for the Canadian Automobile Association’s South Central Ontario chapter, said more than 70 per cent of its members support the use of red-light cameras.
But Silverstein said the support is conditional on the cameras’ use as a safety measure and not a revenue stream. Funds collected from the cameras should be reinvested into safety initiatives, he argued, and the expansion of the program should be accompanied by public education efforts.
Lewis Smith, a spokesperson for the Canada Safety Council, said cities can combat the perception that cameras are a cash grab by giving drivers ample warning of where the devices are. In Toronto, all intersections that have cameras are signed.
“The important thing for cities to do, if the main goal is really prevention as opposed to punishment after the fact, is to make it very clear that there’s a red-light camera there,” Smith said.