Make No Mistake — Point to Point Speed Cameras are Just a Cash Grab

The NDP Government in conjunction with Victoria’s Capital Regional District Traffic Safety Committee has proposed installing point-to-point speed cameras on the Malahat Highway. What these cameras are, essentially, are cameras set at various points throughout the Malahat drive capturing images of the vehicles that pass by them. 

Then, based on the distance between the cameras and the time at which the vehicles pass by, the cameras work together to calculate a speed for any given vehicle. Speed is calculated by measuring the distance the vehicle travelled over time. Those vehicles which are speeding will then be ticketed. Drivers in British Columbia have been asked to provide their opinions to Mike Farnworth by March 1, 2018.

With that deadline fast approaching, it is worth looking at whether speed cameras are a likely solution to the issue of speeding on the Malahat and elsewhere. And based on the government’s own rhetoric, I cannot say that these will serve as any deterrent to drivers. 

Here’s why.  

​Detractors of speed cameras may argue that the reliability of speed measurement is not without significant problems. This is true. The Government may counter by stating that by using the method of point-to-point speed cameras, it is clear that the Government is trying to avoid these pitfalls. Instead, the calculation of speed will be done without the use of laser or RADAR, which reduces the possibility of error. That may too be true. However, this fails to recognize the reality that speed is not constant. Where laser and RADAR do not fail is that they can report variability in speed to the operator instantly. A vehicle may accelerate from 100 km/hr to 120 km/hr, and then slow down. A speed camera will only capture the average speed. 

Distance over time will only produce an average. It assumes a vehicle is travelling a constant speed throughout the whole distance. But that is completely inconsistent with the nature of regular vehicle travel. 

In order to prove an offence occurred, the Crown has to prove their case on a beyond a reasonable doubt standard. For a speeding offence, knowing when and where the speeding occurred is necessary. An average is just that – an average. It says that at some point the vehicle may have been travelling higher and at some point lower. This raises a whole bunch of reasonable doubt, and also shows that the calculation is subject to uncertainties. 

Even if it were the case that a person could be convicted for an average — which may well be so, but it’s at least an arguable challenge at this point — that doesn’t mean that speed cameras will work. Because both cameras between the two points are calculating time, it will be necessary to show that the cameras calculated time in the exact same way. Will the cameras account for seconds? Minutes? Milliseconds? Variability in these will result in a variability in the speed calculated. It remains to be seen how the Crown will prove that the two cameras were aligned to the exact same time. 

This raises all sorts of serious concerns about the operation and maintenance of the cameras.
How often will their measurement of time be checked for calibration? How often will it be recalibrated? What standard will be used. And if there is a standard timepiece used to measure the time that elapses while a car travels between two cameras, is that standard going to be disclosed? What about if that standard becomes slow. Or stops. Or becomes otherwise unreliable. The disclosure implications in a prosecution of these matters are untold and as yet unknown. 

Currently, the BC Supreme Court requires only that speed measurement devices be operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and that the device is in good working order. If evidence is produced to show that this occurred, then the measurement is accepted as reliable, barring any different reason to disregard it. But with point-to-point speed cameras there is no one operating the devices. 

Does this mean the Crown will attempt to prove the maintenance and functioning by way of Certificate? Certificates require notice, which imposes particular disclosure obligations and timelines on the Crown. Additionally, Certificates are not irrebuttable. How will the traffic courts deal with requests to cross-examine the person who completed the Certificate? Or the person who completed the repairs? I expect that the Government will have to adopt some process to allow compulsion of these witnesses, or they risk having prosecutions by way of point-to-point speed cameras dismissed for unreasonable delay and non-disclosure. 

I suspect the Government has considered these implications. 
My basis for this suspicion is founded in the fact that the Government has indicated that the tickets issued from point-to-point cameras will issued to the registered owner of a vehicle. 

And that’s why I say this is a cash grab. 

Registered owner tickets do not appear on the driving record. They do not attract Driver Penalty Points. There is a fine, and then once that’s paid, the ticket disappears into the ether. There is no way to track high-risk speeding drivers. And for anyone with spare cash, the ticket serves as no deterrent. Ditto for drivers who do not own the vehicles they are driving – rental cars, company vehicles, vehicles belonging to friends or family members. 

The Government expects very few challenges because what this is is nothing more than a tax on people who drive fast on the Malahat. Or rather, a tax on people who drive on the average fast on the Malahat. They expect that most people won’t go to court to dispute their tickets because the cost of taking a day off work and showing up for court in Duncan or Colwood is more expensive than the fine. 

Its disingenuous to say that this will stop speeders. Currently, there isn’t really any effective method to collect speeding fines. Drivers can accumulate thousands in fines and only have to pay them once their license or insurance comes up for renewal. 

The Government’s rhetoric about impaired driving is that the swift and immediate penalty of the Immediate Roadside Prohibition is what deters drivers. The Government’s rhetoric about strong penalties for drunk drivers, or cell phone use, or drug impaired driving completely conflicts with the position they are proposing for speeding on the Malahat. A fine and nothing more is not strong punishment. If the goal is to promote public safety and deter future behaviour, why is there such a discrepancy in the punishment that’s imposed for all these other offences and this? 

Because the reality is that this is nothing more than a way to collect revenue from British Columbians. This is not about public safety. If it were, the signage that the Government is proposing be put up at the same time would already be in place. Warnings about speed and crashes would be more prevalent along the Malahat. But there’s no money to be made in putting up signs. 

Point to point speed cameras are nothing more than a method to extract money from drivers. Don’t be fooled by the line about public safety. If the Government meant that, their actions in how they achieve that goal would be consistent. 

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