Photo Radar in Hi-Tech Ottawa? Yes please!

Interactive map with trajectory speed cameras between Amsterdam and Utrecht (capture from
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Interactive map with speed cameras in the Dutch city of The Hague. (capture from

As everyone who drives a car knows, speeding is easy. Roads are so wide that there are few close reference points to trigger your sense of speeding. If you ever travelled in a TGV in France, you may have found it hard to believe you go over 300 km/hr when it zooms through wide open spaces. Until you ride parallel to a highway or pass a tree close to the tracks. Only then do you realise how fast 300 km/hr is.

Few people drive 80-90 km/hr in a residential street, where the limit is usually 50 km/hr. Yet on the much wider arterials, such as Bronson, Riverside or Baseline, 50 km/hr feels too slow and it is easy to go 70-80 km/hr instead. No doubt, waiting at traffic lights on your bike, you have noticed how fast 70 km/hr is.


Ontario law makers have been slow in adopting automation where automation can be used. To me, putting constables on the side of the road, including cars and motorbikes to catch a speeding driver, flag them down and pull out a notepad to take all the info down comes across as archaic. These valuable trained people should be doing work where you need a human brain. In this day and age, technology can perfectly take care of speeding violations.

1600 cameras in the Netherlands

Let’s take a look at the Netherlands. According to, the Netherlands has about 1600 cameras. Photo radar cameras measure the speed of cars, and if you are going too fast, the camera takes a picture and you will be fined. Some of those 1600 cameras are triggered when a driver runs a red, others react to speed or a combination of both.

Trajectory cameras

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Interactive map with trajectory speed cameras between Amsterdam and Utrecht (capture from

There is also another system, where a number of cameras are connected in series on a stretch of highway. The purpose is to measure the speed at different places and then calculate the average speed. If it is too high, you’ll get a fine in the mail.

25 years ago, when I worked in a sales department in the Netherlands, the sales reps would know all the camera locations by heart; there were even lists going around of the license plates of undercover police cars with mobile cameras, so you’d know when to hit the brakes in time.

It may sound odd, but at that time the police also started to announce mobile speed traps in the newspapers in advance, based on the philosophy that the point is not to collect money, but to slow traffic down. If people would all slow down at a certain location, the goal would have been reached. And then the Internet arrived.

New tools

Of course, there are apps for that. This is the Flitsmeister app. You can add your favourite routes and update info. (Screengrab from

With the advance of the internet and GPS equipment, a whole new set of tools became available. How about downloading all the locations of all 1600 cameras in your Garmin or Tomtom or your smartphone? I am not sure how it works, but I am guessing your screen turns flashing red or there is a friendly voice reminding you when the GPS coordinates of your movement is approaching the GPS coordinates of the camera. That’s not rocket science.

Computers rule

But despite all these friendly services by the police and the public, people still get caught (13% recently near Haarlem on a 50 km/hr zone) and then you have to pay. Of course, the Dutch, practical as always, figured out a system to get your money without putting an army of people on it. I am summarising the steps here and skipping some of the legal lingo:

First, based on a law of legal administrative maintenance of traffic law, it will be decided that you will get a fine;

Second, the fine needs to be collected by a central bureau of collections of the ministry of Safety and Justice. They will send you the fine with a payment option (by bank);

But what if you don’t pay?

Third, Easy! Collection 25 Euros might become a huge financial burden on the system if you don’t pay and the cost will become much higher than the actual fine. So Justice has another tool: the fine increases with 50% when they send you a first reminder. The second reminder doubles that amount. (your fine now went from an original 50 dollars, to 75 dollars to 150 dollars).

This can all be done by computers without much human interference: measure speed, take a photo, compare it with the speed limit, send the data to a central unit, compare the licence plate with the registered owner’s address. Send fine out from database to address. Keep track of payment. If not in after set date, send reminder with increased fine.

Say you still haven’t paid, now what?

Forth, Justice will increase the fine with another Euro 12,26 for admin cost and will ask your bank to pay the fine from your account. The bank will let Justice know that the amount was paid. Case closed.

But if I have no money in my account?

Fifth, you will receive a last warning to pay the amount in two weeks.

Sixth, if that doesn’t work, humans start to get involved by means of a collection agency. The collection agency might carry your TV set out, but they can also claim a portion of your wages for example. Other steps that can be taken are taking your driver’s license away for a number of weeks, or you can even be taken hostage for a week by the government (yes, you’d be sitting in jail – but that is rare). The government warns you though, that if you haven’t paid after these draconian steps, you still owe the government the payment of the fine.


This might all sound very Orwellian, but in the process you can disagree with the fine or with the steps taken. And obviously, the best thing is not to let it get that far in the first place. The evidence the government has is strong, so you are probably best off to just pay the fine and move on, unless of course, you can proof they are wrong.

So what if I am a tourist in the Netherlands and I rented a car?

The car is registered at the rental agency so they will forward you the fine. I am not sure how the rental agency deals with this, but you might get away with not paying the fine. I don’t know if rental agencies maintain database of unpaid fines.

Again, watching the speed limit is a perhaps good idea though. Cruise control too. The purpose of speed control is to save lives. The purpose of cameras is to relieve police from tasks that can be automated.

Sign the petition

To help convince city council that we should use our police resources smarter, Kevin O’Donnell started a petition to get photo radar to Ottawa. On March 23rd, Ottawa’s city council will consider a motion by Councillor Brockington (seconded by Councillor El-Chantiry, chair of the Ottawa Police Board) that would see the city officially ask the provincial government for the ability to deploy photo radar, or other technologies, as an additional tool for enforcing speed limits.

Sign Kevin’s petition to support the motion or better speeding control technology and free up our cops: It takes 1 minute.

Update: on May 4, 2016, the motion to ask the province for permission to ask for automated speeding control equipment passed Transportation Committee with a wide margin. There were 15 speakers, 95% was in favour. The no camp was not present. A week later, the motion passed in city council after some discussion.

More about photo radar: Riley Brockington in the Ottawa Citizen, Susan Sherring in the Ottawa Sun.



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  1. Guest Post by Neil Arason: The Case for Automated Speed Enforcement in Ottawa | slow ottawa

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