An organization in the United States is participating in Ottawa’s photo radar debate.
The National Motorists Association Foundation advocates for drivers’ rights in the United States and some provinces in Canada — and member James C. Walker has been communicating with councillors and groups in Ottawa to voice his opinion on the topic.
“I have corresponded back and forth with a number of folks in Canada,” says Walker. “I try to help people understand the issue.”
Walker has more than 50 years of experience studying traffic safety and argues that photo radar does not solve speeding problems, no matter its location in the world. He says the best solution is to change speed limits so they fall within the 85th percentile — “the speed at or below which you find 85 per cent of the drivers under good conditions when traffic is free flowing,” he says.
Walker says research has shown that those who drive within the 85th percentile experience fewer collisions. “People think that if you post a lower number on the signs, the people drive slower and the roads get safer — but that’s simply not true,” he says. “Speed limits within the 85th percentile encourage the safest driving environment.”
Walker penned a letter to Ottawa’s city councillors on March 21 urging them to deny the motion put forward by Coun. Riley Brockington to install photo radar in the capital. Walker has also been working with the group No Photo Radar — launched by Chris Klimek in opposition of the technology — advising them on speed limits and photo radar issues.
Klimek’s group argues that photo radar serves as a cash grab. “It’s used to extort revenue from drivers,” says Klimek.
In addition to working with the National Motorists Association, Klimek’s group has been consulting statistics from Edmonton — a city with photo radar — to determine what will happen if the technology is enforced here.
Klimek says Edmonton issues 10 time more speeding tickets than Ottawa — not because drivers in Edmonton speed more, but because photo radar doesn’t slow them down.
“People in Edmonton drive the same as they did before photo radar,” he says. “The very fact that there are so many tickets is proof that their speed doesn’t go down.”
Klimek stresses the importance of sticking to the facts when debating the issue. “Facts, stats and the truth are universal,” he says. “The same truth about speed limits and photo radar applies all over the world.”
Meanwhile, groups like Safe Streets Ottawa — launched by Michael Powell and Kevin O’Donnell — support photo radar and are encouraging citizens to take a similar stance.
“Speed enforcement is important to public safety,” says Powell. “Speeding is the number one issue that councillors hear about, it’s something that the police have identified as an ongoing challenge and it’s something that is very difficult to enforce.”
Powell says police need a certain number of officers on duty to effectively crack down on speeders. He argues that photo radar can help to achieve more noticeable results.
“Ottawa police need all the tools in their arsenal to help improve the safety of streets, especially when it comes to speed enforcement,” he says. “Photo radar helps to free up officers so they can focus on other traffic safety measures that cameras don’t solve, like drunk driving and distracted driving.”
Safe Streets Ottawa launched a petition to encourage Ottawans to show their support for photo radar. The petition had 634 signatures as of April 4.
No Photo Radar is encouraging those opposed to the motion to contact their councillor. “We’re asking them to exercise their democratic right,” says Klimek.
Council will debate the motion at the next transportation meeting on May 4.