Poll Shows High Support for Photo Enforcement

Photo enforcement is the use of cameras, instead of police, to identify vehicles that speed or run traffic lights. A growing mountain of research shows this high tech type of enforcement helps prevent crashes and injuries. However, Canadian jurisdictions have been slow to adopt it. 

Alberta uses red light cameras and photo radar (or speed cameras) more than any other Canadian jurisdiction. Red light cameras are used to varying degrees in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario as well as in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Quebec has just announced a pilot project in 2008 for both red-light cameras and photo radar.

To find out how Canadians feel about the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws, the Canada Safety Council commissioned an Ipsos Reid survey in July 2007. The results closely parallel a similar poll done in September 2003.

When asked about the level of traffic enforcement by police, two in five Canadians (42 per cent) said they would like to see more. About half of those surveyed (49 per cent) felt the current level is about right, while just seven per cent felt there was too much, down from nine per cent in 2003.

"There's no substitute for strong police visibility in problem areas," says Canada Safety Council president Jack Smith. "People are far less likely to break the law when they know they'll be caught, but the police can't be everywhere. That's why photo enforcement is so effective."

A standard sign for photo enforcement should be installed on approaches to an intersection or along roads where cameras may be present. When drivers know they could be caught if they speed or run the traffic light, fewer choose to break the law, thus making the location safer.

The Ipsos Reid poll found that 77 per cent of respondents support the use of cameras to identify vehicles that go through intersections after the light has turned red, 84 per cent support photo radar in school zones, and 69 per cent support photo radar on the highway. When asked if there should be warning signs to advise of the possible presence of photo enforcement 67 per cent said yes. These findings show little change since 2003.

From a safety standpoint, there is no doubt that photo enforcement works when the measures are put into place based on a proper analysis and the implementation is done according to recommended practices.

"The purpose of the cameras should not be to fine drivers who break the law," explains Mr. Smith. That statement may surprise those who see the technology as a nothing but a cash grab.

When the cameras are implemented properly, fewer people offend in the first place. The purpose is not to catch offenders and collect fines but rather to prevent violations and collisions.

Ipsos Reid interviewed 1,002 adult Canadians between July 10 and July 12, 2007. When speaking nationally, these results are accurate to within 3.1 per cent points, at a 95 per cent level of confidence.