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Smile, You May be on Camera

By early 2011, 140 intersections in the lower mainland will be equipped with new digital cameras.  The images they collect of red-light-runners will be downloaded remotely and the resulting tickets mailed out almost immediately.  Although all 140 locations can operate simultaneously, the intention is to be selective.  Activated locations may differ for morning and afternoon rush hours, for example, depending on which locations can be expected to produce greater impact.

“We don’t want people to perceive this as a cash cow” says Nicolas Jimenez, head of road safety for ICBC.  Continuing public support for the Intersection Safety Camera (ISC) program will be premised on this $20 million upgrade actually reducing the types of intersection crashes that most commonly result in serious injuries and fatalities.  The current system of 30 cameras rotated through 120 locations generates $3 million a year in ticket fines.  Despite more than quadrupling the number of cameras, ticket fines are projected to increase to only $4.4 million a year.
 
Picking the 140 locations was based on the total number of crashes at each high-crash intersection, the type of crashes, and their severity.  Less red-light-running because of camera surveillance generally means less head-on and less T-bone crashes.  Rear-end collisions, on the other hand, tend to increase because of more sudden braking at yellow lights.
 
The 120 existing locations weren’t included if they didn’t meet the new criteria.  Announcement of the sites would be through the Solicitor-General’s office.  Expectations are that the most dangerous traffic corridors will have their fair share of the new cameras: i.e., the Lougheed Highway which tops the list with more than 15,000 crashes in the past five years, followed by Kingsway with 11,000 crashes and then 152nd Street, King George Highway, and the Fraser Highway.
 
Although support amongst BC drivers for the ISC program is high —ICBC cites a 2007 survey showing 84% support—analysis from other jurisdictions with similar programs is skeptical.  Pete McMartin in the Vancouver Sun quoted Rajiv Shah, a communications professor at the University of Illinois who studied Chicago’s red-light camera program, the largest—188 intersections—in North America.  Professor Shah concluded that the cameras did not significantly reduce intersection crashes, that severe crash reductions were so small as to be statistically meaningless, and that the safety benefits were essentially unproven.  He says cameras are really about the over $60 million in fines they generated in Chicago in 2009.
 
Nicolas Jimenez disagrees with this skepticism: “BC’s program should be judged in its own right…. Our own peer-reviewed research concluded that intersection safety cameras prevent crashes and injuries.  The research employed a rigorous, analytical methodology to ensure any benefit could be attributed to the cameras and not to other factors.”  He also said that safety was the main consideration, not ticket revenue:  “If this program were really about generating money, we would place cameras at intersections with the highest crash volumes and red-light running violations. …[but] we’re not doing that.  The new locations are based on where intersection crashes are most likely to cause severe injury or death.”

 

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