Friday, February 27, 2009

Montreal's Obscene Radar Traps

Last year, with great fanfare, the mayor announced the creation of a special traffic unit of 133 officers within the Montreal police force to crack down on speeders. To hear him speak, one would surmise that Montreal faces carnage on it's streets and that road accidents are out of control.
The truth is somewhat different. Traffic deaths have plummeted over the last thirty years and in fact, Montreal's traffic record boasts the second lowest number of fatalities per 100,000 residents (Toronto is first), as compared to other large North American cities. Bet you didn't know that!
So why the crackdown? In a word - MONEY.
It hard to announce tax increases and so disguising a money grab by claiming a safety issue is an easy way out for the city. Montreal already boasts some of the highest parking meter rates in North America, coupled with a no top-up system that charges twice for the same time. Montrealers also pay some of the highest parking fines for expired meters and restricted parking infractions. It is telling that the most efficient department in the whole city work force are the 'Green Onions', the ticketing agents.

Let's dispel some myths about speeding itself.
City officials have bandied about the statistic that says that in 30% of accidents, drivers were speeding. It sounds ominous, but upon closer examination that fact is almost as relevant as pointing out that in 50% of accidents, drivers were listening to the radio or that in 100% of accidents, drivers were breathing. Considering our ridiculously low speed limits, a large proportion of drivers are always driving above the limit and subsequently when accidents occur, it is likely that many of them are 'speeding'. However, speeding is not relevant unless it is the cause or major contributor of the accident, which in the vast majority of cases, it is not.
Here is a list of the principle reasons for car accidents.

Unknown 18.7%
Failure to yield 18.1%
Loss of control 14.0%
Tailgating 12.6%
Driving too fast for road conditions 12.6%
Improper turn 7.9%
Disregarding signage or lights 6.0%
Improper lane change 5.6%
Improper passing 2.3%
Speeding 1.9%
Driving the in the wrong direction 0.2%
Driving too slowly 0.1%

  • The biggest cause of accidents (40%) is impairment (alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription medicine.)
  • Driver distraction is the second biggest cause of accidents. Eating, talking on the phone (even with a hands-free devices) drinking coffee, applying makeup and arguing with passengers are all infinitely more dangerous activities than speeding.
  • More accidents happen because drivers are over-tired, than by dangerous driving or speeding.
  • Tailgating is 3 times more dangerous than speeding.
  • Failing to yield at a stop sign or merging into traffic unsafely is 9 times more dangerous than speeding.
Germany's Autobahn, the equivalent to our Autoroute system has no speed limit at all. That's right, you can go as fast as you like, yet their highway system has significantly less accidents of all types than we do here. Hmm...
Finally when the US, in an effort to curb gas consumption as a result of the Arab oil embargo, lowered the speed limit on freeways to 55 mph from 65mph, a consequential side effect of lower traffic deaths was anticipated. It did not happen. In fact highway deaths crept up. Go figger..

Now let's look at our mayor's major concern, pedestrian safety. Of the 24 people killed on Montreal streets in 2007, twelve were jaywalking and responsible for their own fate. The causes of the other 12 deaths can be attributed to all the other causes combined. While statistics are not available for the exact cause of those accidents, even using the very misleading statistic (30% of accidents have speed involved) it's likely that speeding was responsible for no more than three or four deaths.
Now every death is a personal and family tragedy, but for the mayor to get bent out of shape over speeding is disingenuous.

Finally let's not mix up speeding and dangerous driving. Travelling 20 or 30 kilometres over the speed limit on the Autoroute or 50k in a 30kph zone in the city is not a public danger, regardless of what we are told. It is something drivers know intuitively. Travelling 50 kilometres over the limit in a urban setting is dangerous driving. The problem is that ticketing those who engage in reckless and dangerous driving will not modify their behavior, just as drunks are not dissuaded by the courts not to re-offend. Unfortunately, the vast majority of tickets are issued to those drivers in the first category.

Now to the crackdown.
One would think that in an effort to reduce accidents, our police would concentrate on problem areas where excessive speeding has been a factor in accidents in the past. It would make sense.
What do our police do? They set up operations in places where they can give out the most tickets in the shortest amount of time, period. Pedestrian safety is not a criterion in selecting where enforcement traps are placed and in fact most of these locations are not dangerous in the least.
Some of these speed traps are deserted roads, devoid of pedestrians such as in the Cavendish underpass in St.Laurent where police use the bridge as a sight barrier to nail people as they come up the hill.
The Autoroute 40 service road (at Place Vertu) doesn't see 10 pedestrians a day walking on it's sidewalk, yet the police set up on it on an ongoing basis strictly because of it's profitability.
By far, the stupidest radar trap of all is on Decarie Boulevard service road near Jean Talon. This one is of particular interest because the police actually represent a public danger as they dash out into traffic, across three lanes to nab drivers who haven't de-accelerated fast enough when coming off the Decarie expressway. Cars are forced to come to a screeching halt as the police officer leads the offender across the traffic to the curb and this on one of the busiest roads in the city. All this in the interest of traffic safety!

It's clear that Montreal Police radar traps have everything to do with revenue production and nothing to do with safety.

So why will photo-radar be different?

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I just got a ticket from a photo radar on 15-Sud. Driving towards the Champlain Bridge on a Saturday night, I got nabbed by the radar close to the Atwater exit. I received the ticket in the mail.

    I was clocked at 100kh/h on an empty highway in the middle of the night. Hardly a safety risk. But it earned me a fine. And the most aggravating thing is not the ticket, but the explanation that the radar is there for "safety". What a crock of s**t.