Why Photo Radar?

So why does the City of Edmonton use photo radar? That question keeps bubbling up in Edmonton, as predictable as snow on Halloween.

You’ve probably noticed the vans parked on commuter routes across the City.  You may also see them near elementary schools, now that the new 30 km/hr speed limits are in place.

The reason the City of Edmonton uses photo radar is that it is a proven method to get speeders to slow down and thus reduce preventable collisions.

“The question is not how effective is photo radar at saving lives, it’s how can we make it more effective to save even more lives,” says Dr. Karim El-Basyouny, the City of Edmonton’s Research Chair in Urban Traffic Safety at the University of Alberta.

Professor El-Basyouny just completed a study looking at what happened to collision statistics on the arterial roads where Edmonton used automated photo enforcement (aka photo radar) from 2005-2013.

Dr. El-Basyouny found that on the roads where there was continuous enforcement, severe collisions went down by 32%, speed-related collisions were reduced by 27% and overall collisions were cut by 28%.

You may not think that a ticket in the mail actually makes you slow down.  But it does.  Research shows you’re more likely to obey a law if you know you’ll be punished when you break it.

In fact, for many of us just seeing the van is enough to get us to slow down, even if the radar is pointed at traffic going in the other direction. Dr. El-Basyouny calls this the “spillover effect”.

Dr. El-Basyouny’s paper is right now under review for publication in the Transportation Research Record, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal on traffic safety.  It’s not a general reesarch study about the potential impact of photo radar on driver behaviour.  It’s an Edmonton study based on Edmonton traffic statistics.  And the evidence is irrefutable.

“The outrage in the media about photo radar is not substantiated,”  says El-Basyouny.

Some people say that automated enforcement is just a revenue generator for municipal coffers. This criticism applies to any municipality, not just Edmonton; what’s more, you could apply the same logic to any municipal bylaw that’s routinely enforced.  But in Edmonton we do things a little bit differently, in that revenue from photo radar can only be spent on traffic safety programs, not on general City expenses.

If you get a ticket in the mail, you’ll get a copy of a traffic safety flyer too, which includes some eye-popping facts. For example, did you know that the risk of a collision doubles at 5 km/h over the speed limit in a 60 km/h zone?  The risk is four times higher at 10 km/h over and 10 times higher at 15 km/h over the speed limit.

Automated Photo Enforcement can’t make distracted drivers pay attention.  It can’t force tailgaters to back off.  But it can remind all of us to slow down and drive more carefully.  After all, a recent EPS survey indicates speeding/careless driving is the number one public safety concern of Edmontonians.


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About the Author
Gillian Rutherford
Gillian Rutherford is a communications advisor for the Transportation department.
  1. John
    5 years ago

    While I applaud the city for re-painting its school zone vans advertising the effect, consider this:

    A marked police cruiser with its lights flashing parked in a school zone has both A. extremely high visibility, B. an officer present who can issue instant violation to speeders, and C. Immensely higher incentive for speeders to slow down.

    A marked photo radar van is A. moderately visible, B. provides absolutely no instant violation to speeders, and C. Moderate incentive to slow down, assuming the driver has seen the van.

    Furthermore should a child be struck by a speeding vehicle an officer on the scene can provide emergency medical assistance as well as contact dispatch directly to send an ambulance over immediately. A photo radar van can at best call 9-11.

    The core argument in this article is that photo radar increases overall safety, and in my opinion this is completely outrageous. While there may be statistics showing positive impacts from adding these vehicles in school zones, construction zones, etc. how is setting up photo radar in areas where speed is suddenly changed, from 100km/h to 80km/h for example saving lives? If we are looking at statistics and hard evidence, why is it that other factors such as distracted driving, fatigue, etc not mentioned? I commute every morning and late afternoon in rush hour and the amount of near misses I personally witness astonishes me. My point being that speed, while it may aggravate a collision, is often not the factor that caused it. While I do not condone speeding, especially excessive speed, a vehicle parked on the side of the road, hiding behind trees or a billboard shows drivers that the City is not willing to take the excessive revenue it raked in last year and put it towards effective programs that deter or educate drivers rather than simply punishing them. My case in point is the recent target of vehicles traveling between >6km/h over to <10km/h over as this is more often than not the current flow of traffic. By doing this, the City has directly attacked drivers who are traveling with traffic, which various studies have shown to be the safest method of driving. The chance of a collision increases when vehicles are traveling faster or slower than the rate of traffic. In a perfect world this would be speeders primarily but the fact is, this is not the case.

    Ultimately the City claims these photo radar vehicles enforce traffic laws. I ask how. Realistically they are a license to speed with no consequence to the driver other than a financial impact. There are no demerit points lost, no social embarrassment for being pulled over, and what's worse is that the motorist will simply continue to speed excessively for the rest of the commute. Furthermore the City is now targeting motorists who are not speeding excessively but rather with the flow of traffic and are arguably the safest motorists on the road, who are now being punished for using logic and proper risk analysis skills.

    Take the case of Mr. Pratt who killed three young men several years ago near Beaumont, Ab and was recently convicted. He was drunk, driving roughly 130km/h over the speed limit. I would argue that a police officer could have pulled him over or at least performed a maneuver to take the vehicle off the road. Photo radar would have sent him a fine in the mail, long after the lives of those young men had been taken. A camera is not a police officer, it never will be, and it will never provide the impact the City is trying to convince the public it has to increase safety.

  2. Randy N
    5 years ago

    “The question is not how effective is photo radar at saving lives, it’s how can we make it more effective to save even more lives,” says Dr. Karim El-Basyouny

    OK. Now listen up! If you want it to be more effective as you state then make sure that ticket shows up in the mail WITHIN 7 DAYS!!! It usually takes over a month. Behavior modification requires timely remediation.

    So there you go Dr. Karim. Fix it!

  3. Allan McCullough
    5 years ago


    Pretty much hits every point that needs to be seriously re-examined by police and this entire city in general.

  4. Justin Steen
    5 years ago

    Woopy do… you send them a flyer. That’ll stop them. You know I wouldn’t care so much about photo radar except how you treat it. Ticketing for 10 over the limit especially in zones that go quickly from 60 to 50. Not to mention it doesn’t actually do anything to stop people from speeding other then taking a few dollars off their next cheque. So really your taxing people who have no money.

  5. Anne
    5 years ago

    I have always supported photo radar – until now. Photo radar is one thing. The way the City is deploying it is another thing entirely. They are not doing it in anyway that seems to support safety. In fact, I feel less safe now than I did before with the new photo radar campaign. Why? Because people trying to avoid photo radar are speedometer watching instead of keeping their eyes on the road and slamming on brakes instead of easing into transitions.

    Edmontonians were generally happy with photo radar for over a decade. It’s just this latest iteraction that has them hopping mad. This blog post arrogantly glosses over that fact.

    And yeah – I’m a mom and a slow driver. I’ve never had a photo radar ticket and I don’t intend to get one. But I really hate the new reality, feeling like I have no discretion to vary my speed for safety or ease into transitions without risking an $80 hit. It’s not safer for drivers going from a 110 to 90 kmh transition zone under a narrow overpass to suddenly slam on the brakes. It would be much safer if they eased into 110-105-100-95-90 over the space of several metres.

    My kids aren’t safer with this administration’s deployment of photo radar. They are less safe.

  6. Sandy
    4 years ago

    I applaud any method used by the Edmonton Police Service, in an attempt to slow down these ignorant, dangerous excessive speeders. I am truly disturbed with what seems to be a growing trend of maniac drivers. I live across the street from four schools, two parks and a large sports field, an area always busy with children and families, and what i witness daily is appalling!!. I would estimate that about 30% of traffic drives the speed limit and the other 70 % speed and about half that number speed excessively. It is terrifying at times, witnessing these idiots that think residential roads are a race track. I am beyond fed up. I have contacted 311, numerous times, complaints are forwarded to the traffic safety divisions whom iv’e spoken to numerous times. I have sent a letter to the mayor as well. Nothing has changed in fact it’s become worse. I don’t know what will slow down these drivers but we have to try whatever means necessary.. In my opinion these habitual, excessive speeders are terrorizing our communities, our neighborhoods, and until laws change this problem will only worsen. Tougher laws may help, increase fines substantially, seizure of vehicles, increase demerit points. Any or all of these measures should be implemented immediately. Personally i would like to see these drivers attend speed related crash scenes along with first responder’s. Maybe reality might help!! My thoughts, these constant law breakers don’t deserve to drive! Photo radar is an essential tool, it should be used more widely and in residential area’s as well.

  7. Gloria Klingele
    3 years ago

    I think that this is just a cash grab. If the City really wants to change the behaviors, the best thing is to bring police back on to the street with Radar Guns. This will change behaviors and it increases police presence and maybe this will cause people to buckle down and put their cell phones down. The box is just a cash cow. I encourage them to look at the province of Ontario, they have removed their boxes. A lot of the larger cities have done this as well. St Albert tried to do this and their was a huge uproar on this. I don’t understand how our administration thinks our City is different. If this goes through there will be a lot of councillors and the mayor losing their seats in the next election. There are other ways to get money for the City rather than the photo radar.


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