Photo radar delay leaves advocate worried pedestrian safety taking backseat to COVID-19
Photo radar tickets delayed as police try to crack down on speeding, stunt driving
Speeding drivers whipping past photo radar machines outside Toronto schools or near seniors' areas will not be automatically ticketed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city is delaying its plans to start ticketing this April, even though 50 machines have been in place for months, because the processing of those tickets has been deemed "non-essential," a city spokesperson confirmed in an email.
Further, CBC Toronto has also confirmed that Toronto police temporarily shut down its Vision Zero enforcement team for weeks amid the pandemic due to its own safety concerns about the novel coronavirus. The team of eight officers is now back at work from Monday to Saturday.
Why does this matter? Overall traffic levels have dropped significantly across the city and there hasn't been a pedestrian fatality on public roads in over a month. However, police are reporting speeding and stunt driving are up, creating potentially deadly situations for vulnerable road users.
"People are heading to essential workplaces. People are picking up groceries and medication. Families and children are outside getting exercise. These are the people that speeding drivers are endangering," said Cycle Toronto's Kevin Rupasinghe.
"We should not wait for bodies to pile up. We know this is a problem and we have the tools and resources to address it, so let's act."
Rupasinghe added any additional traffic-related injuries at this time will strain a health-care system that's focused on dealing with COVID-19 patients.
City says it can't process tickets
Cycle Toronto is calling for the province to act swiftly and change photo radar regulations so the machines can be redeployed to streets where speeding is an issue. Current regulations state photo radar can only be used in community safety zones, and there are rules around signage and warning periods, as well.
However, even if the machines were operating, there's nobody to process the tickets, as what the city calls a joint-processing centre has been shuttered.
"Provincial Offence Act Courtrooms are closed until May 29 and the limitation periods have been suspended, meaning there is no longer the legal requirement to issue Offence notices within 23 days of the date of the offence or file with court within seven days of the issuance of an offence notice," said Jasmine Patrick in an email.
"Additionally, Toronto Courts have indicated their filing locations are closed until further notice and that they can only accept tickets filed electronically."
Police in middle of speeding ticket blitz
Without photo radar, Toronto's vulnerable road users are once again counting on police to stop dangerous drivers.
Traffic Services Supt. Scott Baptist, who confirmed the Vision Zero enforcement unit stopped its work from March 23 to April 6, warned drivers that police are still watching the roads, and are currently in the second week of an enforcement blitz targeting speeding.
"There are frontline uniform police officers on patrol 24-7 across the city and all of them enforce traffic laws," he said in an email.
However, Mayor John Tory has said there's a clear need for photo radar.
"We need automated speed enforcement to get people to slow down," he said last November, before threatening drivers with a "pretty big fat ticket" for speeding.
"We've changed the speed limits, but in order to then make that really work, you have to enforce those laws and we just can't afford to have a police officer on every corner."
Don Peat, the mayor's spokesperson, said Tory is aware of the delay and "has made it clear to City staff that he wants automated speed enforcement tickets to be issued as soon as possible."
City officials couldn't provide an update on when that will happen.