Calgary police say they intend to use new photo radar laws to lay careless-driving charges against the worst drivers — raising the ire of the provincial transportation minister.

The government changed the law this year to create a double whammy for drivers who speed through a red light — a $287 ticket for running the light plus a speeding ticket costing at least $100.

But the Canadian Press has learned that starting April 1, Calgary police will use 40 red-light camera speed traps to lay careless driving charges.

"We have had this line all the way through that we would consider careless driving as opposed to two tickets," Sgt. Clive Marsh said in an interview.

"Part of the evidence would be the fact that person ran the red traffic light," he said. "The speed and everything else that shows in the photograph would be used in evidence."

The fine for careless driving is $400, only a little more than it would cost for the two tickets.

Minister livid

But Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette is livid over how Calgary police are interpreting the recent changes to Alberta's Traffic Safety Act.

"They couldn't win one of them (tickets) in court," the minister said. "They cannot go out and ticket a car if there's not a police officer there doing the job."

Ouellette was emphatic in stating that police need to know the identity of the driver in order to lay a careless driving charge.

"Police don't make the laws, we make the laws," he said. "There's no law for police to charge them under if they don't have the guy's driver's licence in their hand."

Marsh concedes that, without evidence to identify the driver, the careless driving charge will be laid against the registered owner of the offending vehicle. Despite the government's concerns, Marsh said Calgary police are not backing down.

"We believe, if the circumstances warranted it, that we would lay a more serious charge against the registered owner," he said. "That's our plan."

AMA against Calgary police plans

The Alberta Motor Association doesn't like what Calgary police are planning. Traffic safety specialist Don Zarko said having careless driving tickets issued from red-light photo traps in Calgary, but not elsewhere, will simply confuse drivers.

'I can certainly see that it might tie up the courts if there's a great number of these tickets handed out.' —Peter Northcott, lawyer

Edmonton Lawyer Peter Northcott, who specializes in traffic violations, said he expects to see plenty of legal challenges by drivers issued careless driving tickets from a photo trap.

"I can certainly see that it might tie up the courts if there's a great number of these tickets handed out," Northcott said. "The overriding concern is that a glimpse lasting only a fraction of a second will be used to establish a charge of careless driving."

Northcott said that in some cases, police might be able to support the careless driving charge, especially if the vehicle runs the light at high rate of speed in busy traffic or bad weather.

Marsh said careless driving tickets would not be issued often — only when there's a strong case to support the charge.

"I would look at the amount of traffic on the road, the weather conditions and also whether there were any pedestrians," he said. "I would have to be satisfied in my own mind that I would charge that person if I was on routine patrol."

Red-light photo traps have reduced collisions in Calgary intersections in recent years by roughly half, said Marsh.