Safety and economic impacts of photo radar program

Traffic Inj Prev. 2005 Dec;6(4):299-307. doi: 10.1080/15389580500253729.


Objective: Unsafe speed is one of the major traffic safety challenges facing motorized nations. In 2003, unsafe speed contributed to 31 percent of all fatal collisions, causing a loss of 13,380 lives in the United States alone. The economic impact of speeding is tremendous. According to NHTSA, the cost of unsafe speed related collisions to the American society exceeds 40 billion US dollars per year. In response, automated photo radar speed enforcement programs have been implemented in many countries. This study assesses the economic impacts of a large-scale photo radar program in British Columbia. The knowledge generated from this study could inform policy makers and project managers in making informed decisions with regard to this highly effective and efficient, yet very controversial program.

Methods: This study establishes speed and safety effects of photo radar programs by summarizing two physical impact investigations in British Columbia. It then conducts a cost-benefit analysis to assess the program's economic impacts. The cost-benefit analysis takes into account both societal and funding agency's perspectives. It includes a comprehensive account of major impacts. It uses willingness to pay principle to value human lives saved and injuries avoided. It incorporates an extended sensitivity analysis to quantify the robustness of base case conclusions.

Results: The study reveals an annual net benefit of approximately 114 million in year 2001 Canadian dollars to British Columbians. The study also finds a net annual saving of over 38 million Canadian dollars for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) that funded the program. These results are robust under almost all alternative scenarios tested. The only circumstance under which the net benefit of the program turns negative is when the real safety effects were one standard deviation below the estimated values, which is possible but highly unlikely.

Conclusion: Automated photo radar traffic safety enforcement can be an effective and efficient means to manage traffic speed, reduce collisions and injuries, and combat the huge resulting economic burden to society. The cost-effectiveness of the program takes on special meaning and urgency when considering the present and future government funding constraints. The application of the program, however, should be planned and implemented with caution. Every effort should be made to focus on and to promote the program on safety improvement grounds. The program can be easily terminated because of political considerations, if the public perceives it as a cash cow to enhance government revenue.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / economics
  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control*
  • Automation
  • Canada
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Humans
  • Insurance Carriers / economics
  • Photography / economics*
  • Policy Making
  • Radar*
  • Safety / economics*
  • Social Control, Formal / methods*