Winnipeg needs more traffic enforcement — just not more cameras

After a couple of big speeding tickets, Joanne Seiff says she realized that Winnipeg actually needs more — not less — police presence on the road. But we need human eyes, not unthinking cameras, she argues.

After 2 big tickets, Joanne Seiff is in favour of more enforcement, but by officers who can exercise judgment

Red-light cameras may catch speeders, but they're an ineffective way to enforce traffic laws because they don't understand cause and effect, says Joanne Seiff. (CBC )

We received two ominous looking envelopes from the Winnipeg Police Service in our mail after returning from summer vacation.

They were, of course, two big speeding tickets. Once we got past feeling upset, my husband and I tried to figure out how this had happened. We're usually very careful drivers.

What I realized from our traffic infractions is that Winnipeg actually needs more — not less — police presence on the road. That said, we need the human variety — not unthinking cameras.

According to my ticket, I was driving north on Waverley when I broke the law. When I looked at the photo and saw my car and the timestamp details, I could reconstruct nearly the whole day in my mind.

It was July 31. I was trying to get all the errands done before we flew to Montreal and New England.  

Surely the second envelope was a mistake? Nope. Addressed to my husband, it also was a traffic light camera ticket issued on July 31, about 45 minutes earlier. That photo-enforcement team was busy before the August long weekend.

Poorly marked construction zones

We knew we were driving our cars on that day, we saw the photographic evidence, so we went ahead and paid the tickets. We were out a lot of money. How much? The combined cost of the two tickets was more than I make, working as a part-time freelancer, in the average month.

What did we do wrong?

In an effort to understand what had happened, I carefully and very slowly drove the route where I got my ticket again. In fact, I'd been driving five kilometres per hour under the limit in an area that looked like it had a 70 km/h speed limit … except it was a poorly marked 50 km/h construction zone.

Seiff says she got her traffic ticket for going 65 km/h in a poorly marked construction zone on Waverley, where the speed limit is usually 70 km/h. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

While perhaps all of Waverley Avenue is a construction zone these days, it took some looking to figure out where the beginning and end of that particular zone was.

Further, we couldn't help but notice how, in several hundred kilometres of driving in Montreal, Vermont and New York, we could easily see each construction zone, even the ones in French marked "FIN" in enormous letters.

It wasn't easy to see here — particularly as I observed cars whizzing past me at much higher speeds during that day.  For this mistake, I owed $442.

Short amber lights

My husband's ticket is in another murky category — because it notes that he crossed an intersection during a red light 1.29 seconds after the light turned.

This issue isn't news either — Winnipeg has a notoriously short yellow light cycle in its traffic signals.

We concluded that arguing these tickets would cost us time and money that we didn't have. From then on, though, I started watching traffic with a critical eye.

I drive on Waverley infrequently. When I do, all the cars zoom past me, even in the construction zone. Closer to home, I've seen both bikes and cars in my residential neighbourhood run stop signs and traffic lights without even applying brakes.

After leaving a farmer's market on Grosvenor Avenue, I drove past a schoolyard. True, it was Aug. 31, and the 30 km/h speed limit in school zones doesn't begin until September.

However, I saw kids out and slowed down. A car tailgated me. Then, to my surprise, the car passed me!

It's a two-lane street, one lane in each direction, with traffic-calming roundabouts. It has bike lines. It's not a highway by any means.

Of course, the car, now right in front of me, was stopped like everyone else at the next red light. All that reckless driving resulted only in passing one cautious mom-car, carrying kids and a dog.

Cameras don't understand cause and effect

In all these cases, I haven't seen any cops intervene. I wonder if the photo-enforcement cameras are on (I hope so!) but I doubt it would make a difference.

You see, cameras lack cause-and-effect judgment. The same police officer who might recognize my confusion over the construction zone and offer me a warning rather than a ticket might also see drag racing on Grosvenor near a school and a farmer's market as being a far more dangerous situation.

Police officers, who can exercise their own judgment, are more useful than cameras for enforcing traffic laws, Seiff says. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Police officers use their judgment to make these decisions. That judgment might be useful in more neighbourhood traffic safety enforcement.

What can be done in the meanwhile?

  • Improve the size and clarity of the construction zone signage. If Montreal, notorious for its construction, can do it clearly, Winnipeg can, too.
  • Reconsider the unsafe and short four-second yellow light cycle that Winnipeg uses. It is an impossibly short cycle in winter time, but even in summer, the yellow light cycles elsewhere provide a much safer interval for cars to get out of an intersection safely.
  • Do some old-fashioned neighbourhood policing and traffic stops. Catch those crazies running the stop signs. The drag racing on Stafford, Portage and other larger roads alone is worth targeting. This issue isn't news either — it's an ongoing safety issue.

It's not often you hear somebody pay a big fat speeding ticket and then ask to bring back policing to improve our traffic safety, but I'm willing to do it.

Spare me the photo enforcement in areas where it's hard to tell the speed limit or to get through a light cycle. Give me some humans in law enforcement with brains instead.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.


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