Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Speeding in Ontario

As a social scientist, I found this article very interesting. The article overviews an emerging debate about whether to reintroduce photo radar in Canada. I think it nicely illustrates how poor public policy can be made. The basic story is that there have been a number of recent highway deaths in Ontario related to excessive speed. Obviously, then, speed needs to be reduced. So the minister of transportation has suggested limiting the speed of truckers to 105 km/h. And the Canada Safety Council and the Hamiton Chief of Police have suggested reintroducing photoradar. It's all justified, as the minister of transportation observes, because ""There's no question that there is a correlation between speed and crashes and collisions."" This seems quite obvious. What is not obvious is that introducing video cameras on the highway will break this connection or reduce speed more generally. And it's also not obvious that restricting the speed of transports is in the public interest.

For me, some questions still remain. First, is there actually an appreciable increase in street racing and related deaths ? I mean, aside from the increased media attention on it? In other words, are we really facing an epidemic? And, if we're not, then why is now the time to focus resources on addressing this? Second, does photo radar work? In the cited article, at least, advocates present no evidence that it actually works. Quite the contrary, the article presents evidence that it only slows down drivers when there is an obvious radar van around, and then it does so because drivers (and radio stations, too) don't mind warning one another that there is a van near by. Unless one parks these vans on every street, then there is unlikely to be an appreciable general decrease in speeding. Third, Emile Therien notes that it was politics and not safety that lead to the abolishment of photo radar in 1995. This seems correct. But is it relevant? And, if it is, isn't it relevant that it's politics and not safety which is allowing his calls for a reintroduction?

1 comment:

Jim Johnson said...

This is makes me unhappy. The main reason I drive through Ontario when heading back and forth from Rochester to Ann Arbor each summer is that I can drive much faster in Ontario. Even with two border crossings and completely nutty INS checks it makes the trip shorter by an hour at least.