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October 26, 2021

Are red light cameras simply a hidden tax?

Across the country, more and more intersections are sporting cameras designed to catch vehicles running red lights and reduce traffic accidents.

Earlier this year, for instance, the City of Ottawa doubled – 33 intersections across the city are now being monitored for red light infractions, up from 18 sites – the number of intersections equipped with cameras to nab careless drivers who run red lights.

But are these robotic photographers really up to the task of prevention or are they simply municipal fund generators?

It's currently a $325-fine for running a red light in the nation’s capital – $490 if you blow through a school zone.

The most persistent argument in favour of red-light cameras is their "halo effect," a theory suggesting that motorists afraid of being ticketed will drive more safely everywhere.

And there are certainly studies that have report a significant drop in overall accidents since the implementation of the red light cameras.

However, critics argue, rear end crashes increase at the same time, with one Houston area piece reporting a 900 percent increase in all crashes and a Chicago report echoing these findings.

What’s the problem, you ask? All cameras are announced by signs. Police officers don’t have to be at every corner. Red-light runners caught by camera lose no demerit points. Their fines ease taxpayers’ burden.

Except that cameras are intended to make intersections safer, not generate a government windfall, writes Kitchener columnist Jeff Outhit

His proposed solution: If you're going to have them, limit cameras to intersections where there are safety problems that cameras can plausibly solve, and remove them where they don’t. 

At the same time, direct fines specifically to traffic safety, not general revenues. At the University of Waterloo, for instance, parking tickets are used fund scholarships and bursaries.

What do you think? Are red-light cameras an effective deterrent or are they simply another municipal money grab?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...