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Photo radar unfairly ticketed British Columbia drivers

By: Ticket Lawyer on January 23, 2018


Like a zombie, photo radar consistently threatens to rise from the dead to haunt BC drivers. Experts have been putting out reports claiming restarting a photo radar program could be a way to rake in funds to handle ICBC’s financial problems.

The Provincial Health Officer’s annual report from 2016 recommended the government reintroduce photo radars to reduce motor vehicle crashes and fatalities, citing a spike in motor vehicle related deaths after the program was first cancelled in 2001. Never mind that the very same chart they use to justify this shows since 2011 motor vehicle related deaths have been even lower than when they were when the photo radar program was in place.

This should have BC drivers worried because photo radars regularly dump tickets onto unsuspecting drivers with minimal evidence and few ways to appeal in a cash grab for the government.

You only need to rewind the clock 20 years to remember how much of a disaster photo radar was for British Columbia. If it comes back photo radar could be a nightmare for the legal system — and we are going to tell you why.

A history of photo radar in B.C.

Photo radar was introduced by the provincial government in the 90s and came into effect in 1996. The public turned against it very quickly and for good reason. 

“It didn’t take long,” Ian Tootill, co-founder of Sense BC, said. “The day they put the cameras in was the day the opposition started.”

Upon being served a ticket from a photo radar, many did not know whether or not they could fight the ticket and assumed they had to pay it. The government was lucky on this front because it was actually impossible to challenge tickets from photo radar cameras effectively. This resulted in many people getting unfairly charged.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. These cameras were susceptible to a laundry list of problems that were exacerbated by the government using them as a cash cow.

When introduced, the government promised these cameras would not be placed at the bottom of hills or in areas where there were not significant concerns over speed — sure enough, they ended up in both. Pegging drivers for going over the speed limit in areas where there were few accidents and fewer fatalities.

Even if you weren’t going over the speed limit, you could still get fined. Interference induced readings, where the radar picks up mechanical or electrical interference not related to the target vehicle, has resulted in people getting tickets despite not going over the speed tolerance in that area.

Further, the cameras were set to ticket drivers with speeds that, while over the speed limit, cops would not bother to pull over. Going as little as 10 km/h over the speed limit could net you a ticket.

“You have to have a human element when giving out traffic tickets,” former cop Grant Gottgetreu said.

Gottgetreu trains police and police instructors in using moving and stationary radars. All of which, he says, needs to start with the cop visually seeing the car driving in excess of the speed limit. Having a visual estimation is mandatory because the radar is meant to reliably corroborate the cops visual confirmation that a person is driving too fast. When B.C. implemented the photo radar system last time, there was no requirement for visual estimation — the camera would log you as going too fast and churn out a ticket, like a money-making factory. Factors like what traffic cop tolerance in that area was were not considered.

Tootill, Sense BC, and others fought against the cameras, starting petitions and calling their MLAs to stop the unwarranted tickets. Then in 2001, former Premier Gordon Campbell ran on the promise to scrap the program. The announcement that photo radar was over was made during the government’s first televised cabinet meeting. The government was ultimately able to dole out $2.3-million in tickets on BC drivers in the program’s final year; the cost to dismantle the program was nearly $6-million.

The return of photo radar

If photo radar is reintroduced, it has the potential to be a disaster for British Columbia. If the legislation looks the same as it did last time, even police officers believe it will be nearly impossible for photo radar to hold up in court. In our view, the evidentiary requirement of a visual estimation must be part of process and the government must consult cops about appropriate speed tolerance in that area. 

“Without a visual estimation, these cases will not succeed,” Gottgetreu said.

Thankfully, the provincial government shows no signs of being willing to put this burden on the drivers of British Columbia. Attorney General David Eby said last year that the government would not be considering bringing back a photo radar scheme.

“It is wildly unpopular among British Columbians. They hate it. We’ve heard that loud and clear,” he said.

While photo radar will hopefully not make an unwelcome return to B.C.’s roads, drivers can still be slapped with speeding tickets or other driving infractions. When fighting a ticket, a lawyer can be a huge help. If you have a ticket that you want to fight, give us a call for a free consultation