Clock ticking on Winnipeg photo radar system: police chief
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/09/2022 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The city’s police chief warns its intersection photo radar system may soon be a thing of the past, if the province doesn’t update existing regulations.
Chief Danny Smyth says the Winnipeg Police Service is “handcuffed” to a failing 20-year-old system because provincial rules specify police can only use that specific technology.
“If it stays status quo, the equipment is going to deteriorate to the point we won’t be able to use the program at all,” Smyth said in an interview with the Free Press.
The sticking point is language within Manitoba’s 2002 Image Capturing Enforcement Regulation, part of the Highway Traffic Act.
The regulation specifies only certain technology created by Gatsometer BV, a Danish traffic camera company, can be used for intersection safety camera programs. The technology uses induction loops, or coils of wire embedded in the surface of the roadway, that detect speed and red-light infractions, Smyth further explained in a recent post on police’s Substack page.
Smyth said a few of the 49 photo radar intersection sites in the Winnipeg already don’t work and a city-wide failure could happen within “several” years without intervention. It’s already a challenge to get new parts, and the fact induction coils are buried means they’re difficult to move, he added.
Furthermore, police would like to expand the photo radar fleet to newly developed areas in the city but are limited in what they can do while stuck with the old technology, the chief said.
Smyth likens the dated technology to an old computer.
“If you were trying to use the same computer that you might have been using back in 2001, it’s probably not working anymore. That’s kind of what’s happened here,” he said. “The only way we can upgrade the technology… is for the (province) to change the regulations.”
“If you were trying to use the same computer that you might have been using back in 2001, it’s probably not working anymore. That’s kind of what’s happened here.”–Police Chief Danny Smyth
Smyth said he’s spoken with multiple Manitoba transportation and infrastructure ministers over the years but, to date, there’s been no political will to make updates.
An unnamed spokesperson for Transportation Minister Doyle Piwniuk said the minster met with Smyth earlier this year, “to discuss legislative amendments requested by the WPS, and that dialogue continues.”
While some ticket-weary Winnipegers might rejoice at the news intersection photo radar is aging out, Smyth countered it’s an important tool because it curbs bad driving behaviour and frees up police to take on traffic enforcement duties that can’t be automated, such as stopping impaired or distracted drivers.
It also nets a lot of money.
The WPS routinely hauls in millions of dollars from photo radar revenue. The money goes back into the overall police budget.
“The whole thing is about money,” said Christian Sweryda, a Winnipeg traffic safety activist.
Sweryda, who has researched street safety and infrastructure in Winnipeg, says expanding or updating photo radar technology won’t make streets safer. What will is better signage around school zones, speed limits that are appropriate for roadways, and more speed limit signage, he said.
A Free Press investigation earlier this year showed the City of Winnipeg has failed to improve signage and safety on its streets, despite Sweryda’s research showing a dire need for updates. Sweryda’s take on things is better signage means fewer drivers speeding, which means less revenue — and is therefore undesirable.
- From Feb. 2022: Better sorry than safe? Amber-light times and speed-limit signs that failed to meet Canadian standards deliver clear evidence that Winnipeg’s photo-enforcement system was set up for profit rather than protection, critics charge
Furthermore, police haven’t proven photo radar actually makes streets safer, said Sweryda, who calls photo radar a “tax” on drivers.
The city maintains it is committed to improving safety on Winnipeg streets.
Ken Allen, spokesperson with the public works department, called road safety a “top priority.”
He pointed the Winnipeg Road Safety Strategic Action Plan, approved by council in July, “which will serve as a road map for implementing both short-term solutions, and long-term investments, to ensure the city is doing its part in preventing serious injury and death on our roads.”
Katrina Clarke is an investigative reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press.