City considers photo radar to control speeds in schools zones

London’s Civic Works Committee is investigating the possibility of using photo radar to deter speeding in school zones. And it wants staff to investigate a program in Canmore that rewards drivers who travel at or below the speed limit.

Staff also asked to study a program in Canmore, Alberta that rewards drivers who stay below the limit

Photo radar, also known as automated speed enforcement, is used for identifying and ticketing speeding drivers without the need for police enforcement on the roads. (CBC)

London's Civic Works Committee is investigating the possibility of using photo radar to deter speeding in school zones.

The committee endorsed a call Tuesday from five councillors who are promoting the idea. The group is lead by Coun. Jesse Helmer.

"We know from the research that automated speed enforcement [the official term for photo radar] is proven to reduce incidents of speeding, the number of crashes, the severity of those crashes, the number of fatal injuries, the number of serious injuries. So it's really proven to actually increase safety."

Helmer says the issue is also about improving the perception of safety in school zones. He believes the fact that people perceive school zones as being unsafe is one the reasons why many parents insist on driving their children to school.

Councillor Jesse Helmer says putting photo radar in school zones would reduce speeding and serious or fatal injuries. (City of London)

"A lot of people could be walking or biking to school if they thought it was safer, and safe for their kids."

Camera rewards program

The committee referred the matter to administration for further study and it has asked staff to consult with officials in Canmore, Alberta who have developed a novel way of implementing photo radar.

The "I Drive Safely Program" followed the introduction of photo radar there. It was designed to promote safety.

"The way it works is our photo radar operators – who are contracted service providers – capture a number of people throughout the week that are violating the speed laws in town. But they also capture a number of plates that are travelling at or below the posted speed limit," said Greg Burt, manager of protective services for Canmore.

Burt told CBC's London Morning the town rewards law-abiding drivers by putting their names in a draw for a $250 gift certificate that can be used at any registered business in the community.

"We've been running the program since 2013 and I would say that almost every single person who's received ... the reward has been pretty ecstatic about the fact that they're receiving this. It comes as a shock or a surprise."

Burt said the town wanted to enhance safety by taking a "holistic approach" instead of just focusing on a financial deterrent.

Has it actually reduced speeding?  Burt said he doesn't have any hard data but he frequently hears from residents who say they have changed their driving habits because they don't want to get another ticket in the mail.

"So anecdotally, when I hear comments like that, that tells me it's having a positive impact."

Coun. Helmer thinks the positive rewards of Canmore's photo radar program are "an interesting twist." He's not sure if London should follow suit but said it would be helpful for city staff to explore.

Photo radar logistics

Helmer says the city still has to figure out how to implement photo radar in school zones. He hopes municipalities can work together on central processing and administration of the photos and ticketing, as they do now with red light cameras.

But he wants to move ahead with the plan as soon as possible. Helmer is optimistic that London can be one of the first municipalities in Ontario to use automated speed enforcement in school zones.

The province gave cities and towns permission to use the technology in community safety zones and school zones last year.