Toronto's photo radar cameras having trouble reading new Ontario licence plates

A city spokesperson said they could not provide a “conclusive evaluation” because the photo radar cameras have only seen a small number of the new plates, but so far the smaller font size of the jurisdiction name has some “visibility challenges,” especially at night.

Advocate calls for ‘immediate halt’ to licence plate program until issues resolved

Ontario's new licence plates went into circulation in Feb. 1. The City of Toronto says its photo radar cameras are having trouble reading the jurisdiction name on the new plates. Above, a mock version of the new plate. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Toronto's new photo radar program may be off to a slow start after preliminary data from the city suggests the font size of the new Ontario licence plates can't be seen by the cameras.

A spokesperson for the city said staff could not provide a "conclusive evaluation" because the photo radar cameras have only come across a small number of the new plates, but so far the smaller font size of the jurisdiction name — Ontario — has some "visibility challenges," especially at night. 

"When you look at the old plate versus the new plate it does appear that the 'Ontario' text is smaller than it was, and that's primarily where our challenge is," said Mike Barnet, the manager of Automated Enforcement, adding that identifying the jurisdiction is a requirement for issuing the ticket. 

This revelation comes amid criticism that the new blue plates are hard to read in the dark.

However, Barnet said the blame doesn't lie with the provincial government.

"It's [the province's] right to make the licence plate as they determine, and it's our responsibility to work with them on that," he said.

For now, the city is going back to the photo radar vendor to see what can be done to improve the cameras. Part of the issue could be the fact that the cameras are set back 20 or 30 metres from the road and capture the vehicles in motion at an angle, Barnet explained.

The photo radar cameras are set back at an angle from the road, which could be the reason why they are having trouble reading new Ontario licence plates, a city spokesperson says. (CBC)

Advocate calls for 'immediate halt' to new plates

The continued reports of visibility issues since the plates were introduced on Feb. 1 have one activist calling for the rollout to be stopped, at least temporarily. 

"I'd like to see an immediate halt to the implementation of this program until further testing," traffic safety advocate Tom Worrall said. 

Worrall said if drivers know they can't be seen and therefore can't be ticketed by the new photo radar cameras, it "puts us back into the dark ages of free rein. 

"It's pretty obvious that much of the traffic does not adhere to safe driving practices … We can't go backwards, we must move forward on safety issues," he said. 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has similarly called for the province to review the apparent nighttime visibility issues with the plates.

In a statement issued today, the organization says it's crucial for people to see the plates clearly in order to report drunk or dangerous drivers.

The city says the text size for 'Ontario' on the new plates is smaller than that of the old plate shown here, making it difficult for the photo radar cameras to read. (Jim Becksted)

Province says it's seeking an 'immediate solution'

Before launching the plates, the government said it consulted with "key stakeholders, including our law enforcement partners, to test the readability, reflectivity and functionality of the new high-definition plates."

But Wednesday afternoon, the premier's office released a statement saying Ford had spoken to 3M Canada, the company that designed the plates, "on two separate occasions seeking an immediate solution to the issues identified with their product.

"The Government of Ontario expects 3M to stand by their product. We are working with them on a path forward and will have more to say shortly," the statement continues.

For its part, 3M Canada also released a statement Wednesday.

"We are working with the Ontario Government and the plate manufacturer to address concerns with the new Ontario licence plates," the statement reads.

"We stand behind our products and are actively providing solutions ... to address the readability issue as quickly as possible."

With files from Natalie Nanowski, Lisa Xing and The Canadian Press


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