In Toronto, Ontario recent news reports indicate that approximately 20 to 30,000 tickets are issued per month from the operation of speed cameras which began operation in July of 2020.

Politicians in other cities like London, Ontario have been waiting for the Province to complete its review of the photo radar program but have now decided to commence installation of cameras rather than wait for rules to be finalized. The London plan is to install cameras at select school zones. Yet, if installation occurs, the Province has required that advance warnings to the public must be included. A sign indicating “Municipal speed camera coming soon” must be posted for three months before the cameras come into operation. During the camera’s operation a sign must also be posted indicating “camera in use”.

In Ontario speed cameras capture the speed of a vehicle without necessarily identifying the driver. This means that tickets are sent to the owner of the vehicle, and not necessarily the driver.  In a large percentage of cases the driver is essentially the same as the owner, but not always. Since tickets are issued against vehicle owners this method does not cause drivers to lose demerit points which are key to removing speeding drivers from the road and increasing their insurance premiums.

This problem is particularly important when the wealth of individuals is taken into account. The maximum fine from a speed camera is $718 which is incurred upon travelling at 50 km/h or higher above the posted speed limit. While this cost may be high for a typical vehicle owner, it can be minimal for someone of considerable wealth. A wealthy owner/driver pays a very minimal amount compared to their wealth while a regular owner/driver pays much more.

Furthermore, since no demerit points are lost the wealthy owner/driver does not receive the worst penalty unless the speed of their vehicle travels at 50 km/h beyond the speed limit. Once a vehicle is determined to be travelling at 50 km/h over the speed limit the vehicle owner is required to appear before a Justice of the Peace. But this means that a wealthy driver could drive at 40 km/h above the speed limit on numerous occasions while facing minimal repercussions.

The problem is evidenced by the record of a repeat offender that reportedly received 15 speeding tickets in April, 2021. Have the speed cameras been successful in curbing this driver’s habit of speeding?

According to information reported by local news media the Toronto data also appears to show some unusual findings. Only 1506 offenders were reportedly caught by the cameras in April, 2021 and a total of 22,635 tickets were issued. Simple math would suggest that, on average, these 1506 offended incurred over 15 tickets in April. This seems odd since so much publicity was generated about a single driver who received 15 tickets. As standards of news editting are noticeably deteriorating in recent years it would be not unusual that these reported data may be in error.

Meanwhile those law-abiding persons in the general population who understand the importance of obeying the law may follow that law precisely. Traffic speed cameras are able to charge offenders at a rate of $5 for every km/h that a vehicle travels between 1-19 km/h above the speed limit. Our experience in conducting detailed reconstructions of collisions over the past 40 years has indicated that there is no meaningful safety difference between a driver travelling at 49 km/h and 51 km/h in a posted 50 km/h speed zone. But a traffic camera does not understand that logic, it just issues tickets based on pre-coded instructions.  In many instances drivers can be so focused on the precise speed of their vehicles within the range of speed cameras that they fail to detect other importance clues that might prevent them from causing or avoiding a collision.

While speed is an important factor in collision causation and its consequences, the issue is more complex than is often revealed. Travel speed is not the same as impact speed. A vehicle may be travelling as 60 km/h but due to pre-crash braking the vehicle’s impact speed may be reduced to 40 km/h in about one second.

Similarly the impact speed does not fully relate to injury causation. It is the change-in-speed, or more correctly, the change-in-velocity, that is a better predictor of injury. A vehicle with an impact speed of 100 km/h may be involved in a collision that is equal in severity to a vehicle travelling at 40 km/h. It all depends on what happens during that impact and what change in speed (velocity) occurs during that impact.

Furthermore, the change-in-velocity has its own problems with relating to safety in individual collisions. The mass of vehicles, the way they interact with each other, the characteristics of the occupants, etc, all have their influences that need to be considered.

There is an impetus for reducing maximum posted speeds on urban, residential streets from 50 km/h to 30 km/h. The logic is that reducing the maximum posted speed will result in lower average speeds and lower risk of injury and death. While such actions may reduce average speeds it is not clear how this will change the actions of the small percentage of high risk drivers who ignored maximum posted speeds even when they were posted at 50 km/h. If such high risk drivers travelled at 80 km/h in the 50 km/h zone will they suddenly reduce their speed to 30 or 40 km/h just because the posted maximum speed has been reduced? Will an impaired driver be influenced by the change in posted speed? Without an increased presence of police in residential neighbourhoods speed cameras will have to be installed in very large numbers to ensure that most instances of speeding are captured. The actions of the public in general are changed by the presence of the speed cameras yet the small percentage of truly dangerous drivers, those who should be the target of safety campaigns, are more difficult to change.