Thunder Bay

Red light cameras lead to drops in collisions in Ontario municipalities

Red light cameras have proven successful when it comes to reducing angle collisions at intersections where they've been installed, Ontario municipalities with the cameras say.

Toronto began using cameras in 2000

Red light cameras have proven successful at reducing collisions in other Ontario municipalities. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Red light cameras have proven successful when it comes to reducing angle collisions at intersections where they've been installed, Ontario municipalities with the cameras say.

The City of Thunder Bay could soon count itself among the Ontario cities with the cameras, as it's currently considering adding them to 10 city intersections; administration will consult with the public before council makes a final decision.

A recent report to Thunder Bay City Council stated the cameras reduce angle collisions, or T-bone collisions, at the intersections where they're installed.

In Toronto, that has proven to the be the case, said Jeffery Catlin, manager of automated enforcement with the city's transportation services division.

"We evaluate it on multiple occasions dating back to the original pilot," Catlin said. "We found that there is a 25 per cent reduction in the number of angle collisions which result in fatalities and serious injuries, along with a 17 per cent reduction overall in angle collisions whereby there's only property damage to the vehicles."

Toronto first installed the cameras in 2000, as part of the Ontario red light camera pilot project. Originally, Toronto had 10 cameras operating, but the program has continued to expand. Catlin said the hope is Toronto will have about 300 of the cameras running by the end of 2021.

"Our technology has gotten much better in regards to the cameras and our processing centres," Catlin said. "That just allows us to be able to process the charges more clearly as well. So it has had some pretty huge benefits … to the driving public and pedestrians, as well as vulnerable road users."

Toronto also operates the province's joint processing centre, where images captured by red light cameras in Ontario are sent for processing.

A 'very successful' program

Currently, there are 10 municipalities in Ontario running the cameras, Catlin said (another five municipalities could come on board this year, depending on if their councils approve the measure).

One of those other 10 municipalities is York Region, where the cameras went into use in 2013 with 20 cameras; the municipality expanded that to 40 cameras in 2017.

And the 2019 York Region collision statistics report shows the cameras have significantly reduced angle collisions in the municipality.

In 2010, prior to the rollout of the cameras, 187 angle collisions were reported. That number had dropped to 64 by 2018.

"It's been a very successful program," said Joseph Petrungaro, director of road and traffic operations with York Region's transportation services department. "Changing driver behaviour takes a long time. It doesn't happen overnight."

"People get a ticket and maybe that helps them learn a little quicker," he said. "And the good news is, if they only get a ticket, that's great, because if they end up in a collision, someone could get seriously injured."

Durham Region has also implemented the red light camera program, but there, the cameras went into effect recently, in October 2020.

Steven Kemp, Durham's manager of traffic engineering and operations, said the cameras came as part of an overall review of the municipality's road safety initiatives.

"Overall, it's about doing everything we can to eliminate all traffic related injuries and fatalities on our transportation system region wide," he said. "There was a long list of initiatives proposed as part of that plan. And red light cameras was one of them."

Kemp said it's too early to say what effect the cameras are having on collisions in Durham Region.

"The other challenge we have with our collision statistics at the moment is that because of COVID-19, our traffic volumes are way down from normal," he said. "Our collision frequency, thankfully, is also way down from normal. So it's hard for us to do before and after comparisons at the moment."

The report to Thunder Bay City Council also stated that other Ontario municipalities have recouped the costs associated with the cameras through the fines issued (in Thunder Bay, operating all 10 proposed cameras is expected to cost the city $875,000 a year).

Thunder Bay to consult public

Both Catlin and Petrungaro said the programs in Toronto, and Durham are financially sustainable.

However, Catlin noted the costs do add up.

"Obviously the municipality has to put a bit of money out first, to make sure that they have their sites prepared," he said. "They're going to have to hire the appropriate staff, that sort of thing."

"But you have to be able to maintain the program as well," he said, adding that when fines are issued, fees are paid to the courts and the province, with the remainder going to help the municipality continue the program.

"For us, it's not about the money. It's about the safety," he said. "No money comes back to us directly. We're not making money off of this. We're just trying to ensure the safety of vulnerable road users and drivers in the area."

At its meeting earlier this month, Thunder Bay City Council directed administration to hold more public consultations about red light cameras and report back to council in June.

If Thunder Bay is to join the red light camera program in 2022, the city must notify the Ministry of Transportation by July 2021.