Are speed traps the best use of police resources?

There was an interesting article in the Wheels section of the Saturday Star about speed traps and the tradition of flashing headlights at oncoming cars to warn them of the imminent radar. I recall that was one of the earliest things I picked up as a child watching adults drive — that unspoken “community” of car drivers evading tickets. While the author discovers that the ticket his friend got for warning drivers of the usual Prince Edward Viaduct speed trap can be defeated in court as it isn’t breaking any law, he wonders if these sort of traps are in our best interest.

On this day he was driving westbound on the Prince Edward Viaduct, which connects Danforth Avenue and Bloor Street across the Don Valley. He spotted a radar trap nailing eastbound drivers, and passed it at approximately 49.999 km/h. It’s there all the time so it was no surprise to him.

Of course, like most concerned citizens, he has often wondered: if radar is supposed to be a traffic safety measure, why would they run it on a bright sunny Saturday morning, on a three-lanes-each-way bridge, with excellent visibility in all directions, without a single intersection, store, home, school or in fact much human activity at all?

Surely, there are more dangerous places they could be trying to slow people down?

Let alone more important public safety initiatives the police could be doing?

Can you say “fishing hole,” boys and girls?

As bike rider and foot walker (often passing by this particular speed trap), I tend to agree that this is a fairly useless place to set one up, despite the awkward lane change cyclists have to make at the eastern end of the viaduct. Similarly, during a former regular long-bike-commute, I noticed a trap at the north end of the Bayview bridge above Lawrence (the cops are usually parked on the grounds of the Crescent School) where the road is wide and straight and a little excessive speed isn’t a problem.

In general, cars going a reasonably excessive speed do not bother me whether on foot or bike — what does are bad driving habits and poor skills at any speed as well as the things that get a lot of comment on this blog: parking in bike lanes, dangerous driving around cars/pedestrians, lack of signaling, rolling through open streetcar doors. It’ s a long list, but dealing with these items likely takes more effort to enforce/patrol, rake in less consistent money than the “fishing holes” and is often only targeted during one of their (media heavy) “blitzes” rather than as standard everyday practice. Yet, enforcing and targeting those infractions regularly likely has a much greater effect on our safety as cyclists, pedestrians and even drivers.

Top Photo by Tony Aw, Toronto Star. Photo of Castle Frank/Bloor trap by Gary J. Wood.


  1. I believe that such opportunistic policing makes people cynical of the law, and the negligence of policing safe driving has given us the traffic behaviour that we have. I remember when people stopped on yellow, and let pedestrians cross in the middle of a block, and I am not yet 40.

  2. Radar fishing holes give police a bad image of being lazy and arbitrary. I passed an officer this morning probably filling his end-of-month quota. While some radar enforcement is necessary to keep things from getting out of hand, lets see more of it on neighborhood streets, school zones, and heavily traveled pedestrian areas where safety is of real concern.

    On any given day downtown you see police ignoring blatant traffic violations: unsafe parking at intersections and on bike lanes, blocking intersections, illegal turns, improper turns and lane changes, failure to signal, driving in reserved lanes, illegal passing…. it is a free-for-all with almost zero enforcement.

    What is worse – sometimes you see the police breaking the traffic laws! Our police need to lead by example.

  3. While I can agree somewhat with the above, I’m glad of the police presence on this speedy section which I am often biking daily. In particular, there’s a nasty bit of substandard narrow bike lane on the southbound lane just as the road curves ahead of the Viaduct that the fast cars always cut into, giving double danger. I’d like to see the ticket money go to repainting that and there’s also a set of nasty conditions crossing over the DVP exit further east. But the civic priorities are to spend $25M in redoing 1km of Bloor between Ave. Rd. and Church St. instead of basic repairs and safety.
    And if the motorists feel hard done by, that’s sorta too bad, and it’d be interesting to hear the shrieks if the cops decided to tab the cyclists that blow through the stoplight at Castle Frank going east…
    I’ve heard there may be campaign this week for better behaviours…
    We’ll see as the cops can feel “carist”

  4. A cop classic: turning on the lights to go through a red, making a quick left past the intersection into a doughnut shop, sitting down at the counter for a complimentary coffee.

    No word of a lie. I saw this after a long shift as a prep cook at 17 years of age. Nothing like giving a teenaged boy another reason to resent the law.

  5. How about enforcing the king st rush-hour streetcar/taxi only lanes? That’d be way easier than a fishing hole. I was driving along and the way everyone was completely ignoring them. This is way easier to enfore and they wouldn’t even need to hide.

  6. I agree that enforcing the rush-hour streetcar/taxi only lanes would be an excellent use of resources. And how about policing cars parked in the bike lanes?? This activity is particularly dangerous for cyclists as avoiding the ‘bike lane blocker’ forces one out into the traffic.

  7. “.. warning drivers of [a] speed trap can be defeated in court as it isn’t breaking any law ..”

    Is this true? When I try to warn people that the police have set up a trap for cyclists ahead (for example at the corner of Baldwin and Beverly), I am told that my actions are “obstruction of justice”.

  8. Traffic law enforcement is sorely lacking in Toronto.
    I welcome the sight of a policeman enforcing the law – anywhere, anytime!
    Why must any driver travel above the posted limit?
    There’s no good reason to support scofflaws who speed or illegally park.
    More law enforcement, please.
    And remember: “The best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it!”

  9. “….cars going a reasonably excessive speed do not bother me….”

    reasonably excessive – is that not an oxymoron?

  10. No, I don’t think so. Excessive of the posted limit (excessive = over) though excessive usually does mean “unreasonably” over. Reasonably, 10 or 20 km over, depending on the breaks.

  11. Whatev, dude.

    Did it ever occur to y’all that if speed limits are unenforced or raised to a “reasonably excessive” speed, there would be just as many yahoos who would take that as a cue to drive at a “reasonably excessive” speed above that?

    Biking or walking in Toronto is already like running the bulls in Pamplona. Let’s not make it worse.

  12. Dude, the point was not raise the speed limits on city streets, but enforce them where it matters more, rather than at fishing holes — and enforce all the other stuff that may be more dangerous.

    In Pamplona, the bulls don’t move that fast. It’s the wild horns and hooves that do the damage.

  13. People, let’s just sum this up ok? Her it is – all over the news this morning about a gun that has been used in 3 or 4 or 5 big time crimes (murder being one of them)….and we have cops sitting around hoping to nab people for 10k over the limit. Gimme a break. Maybe they should be chasing REAL criminals.

  14. And how many people are killed in motor vehicle “accidents”, Ed?

  15. When I go for my run on Martin Goodman Trail west, I almost always pass the speed trap set-up at the legion for east-bound vehicles – ridiculous! No crosswalks, schools or intersections in sight.
    Ditto for the speed-trap on Commissioners Road near Cherry Beach. “Serving” who and protecting “who”? A whole whack of people get insurance rate hikes for no-good reason. If these cops want to do some traffic good, patrol the cross-hatched intersections and bus/taxi/bike lanes downtown and give people something to cheer about.

  16. Police traps are a funny business. They set up in the exact same spot in predictable conditions. A sunny day with warm temperatures, and no dangerous conditions. There is no surprise here, and that’s not even because drivers warn each other.

    This guy passes by a radar and decides to warn oncoming drivers in an effort to do the cops a favour and slow people down. But apparently the cops don’t like this because they won’t be able to pull in money and bragging rights that they charged X amount of people today for speeding.

    I’m all for cops pulling over people for speeding or aggressive driving, but honestly I don’t believe these speed traps do any good. The only one thing I have ever noticed is that people will subconciously slow down in very specific areas that are well known to be trapped, out of sheer paranoia. “Great!” you might say, “that will make people slow down even if the cops aren’t there!” you may proclaim. Well you would only be partially correct. Sure, people slow down. But for what? A

  17. Sorry, the site doesn’t like me using symbols in my post… Continued:

    A less than 1km stretch of road? The two locations that I drive on that I notice this behaviour the most are:

    1. Bayview south of Steeles travelling north AND southbound all the way to Cummer. It is one giant incline where the cops love to camp out to get people as they attempt to compensate for the amount of pressure needed to push on the pedal to go up, or the amount of breaking needed when going down. The speed limit here is 50km/h, which is a retardedly slow speed when considering just how major this street actually is. People will go no more than 55km/h unless they are new to the area, but this is just about one suburban block. After that, back up to normal 10km/h+ over the limit speeds.

    2. Same goes here on Green Lane on either direction east of Aileen. Nobody goes over 45km/h out of fear, and ironically enough it is also located right at top of a huge dip in the road (same trouble driving on as Bayview above).

    These traps are nothing but cash grabs. Fight every single ticket you ever get from these traps. Cops would be better of just patrolling the areas. How many times have I been driving along only to have some dipshit in a Honda almost clip my bumper as he tailgates me and switches to the other lane (without signalling, might I add) and swerving in and out of traffic all the way home? Cops on patrol will catch people who are not expecting them to be patrolling. Traps are always expected, always in the same place, always at the same time. Ineffective.

    As for warning other drivers when you see a trap? You’re doing the cops a favour. If they really cared about slowing people down, then they wouldn’t be pulling people over and charging them under false laws for warning other drivers.

    It’s a shame, really.

  18. I did a little research, and discovered that within the range that Shawn quotes, 20 km (50-70 km/h) the stopping distance just about doubles, from 59 meters at 50 km/h to 101 meters at 70 km/h. Speed limits exist because of the laws of physics and the limits of the human nervous system, things that the best and most passionately concerned driver cannot do anything about. If a child slips from a caregiver or chases a ball less that 101 meters in front of a car going at Shawn’s ‘reasonably excessive” speed, then we can expect serious blunt-force trauma as a result.

    This discussion reveals the worst of automotive culture: the excuse making, the buck passing, the juggling of multiple causes of traffic fatalities to justify dodging the basic obligation of the user of any technology: operate at all times safely and legally. Do no harm. Instead, drunks blame accidents on speed, speeders blame it on racing, racers blame it on weaving, and weavers blame it on alcohol.

    Having trained in a much tougher and less compromising technical culture than that of the automobile, I believe that unless you know beyond doubt that following the rules will not improve your safety (a difficult proposition in relation to speeding, given the physics), then give the law the benefit of the doubt.

  19. “Reasonably excessive” in the specific locations I mentioned where I’ve seen fishing holes, where there are no kids around, etc. There are more effective places to let the law loose, where other bad activity can also be snatched up.

  20. Oh whatever Daemon….tell me this….is the person that speeds a bit or the person that pulls a trigger more or less intent on killing someone?

  21. How much do you think intent matters to the dead or maimed man, woman, child, dog, raccoon or squirrel, and their survivors, Jones?

  22. Daemon has a point there. Intended or not, a person’s life can easily be taken away. Would you have the guts to tell the family of the victim that you were speeding only because you didn’t intend to kill their loved one?

  23. and you guys have never ever EVER gone too fast in your vehicle. gimme a break. get off your soapbox.

  24. Nobody said we were angels, we’re just arguing a point that you seem to be so strongly opinionated on. I, for one, rarely go more than 10km/h over the speed limit, mainly because if I don’t go with the flow I’ll get honked all the way to Alberta.

  25. I work in the field of traffic safety, and I’d point out that there are a few legitimate reasons why speed enforcement is done at what you might think are inefficient or ridiculous times and places:

    1. It’s safer for police to enforce where there is room to do so. Officers are not interested in risking their lives or those of the stopped driver for the sake of a speeding ticket.

    2. Erratic enforcement at the same place is the only way for police to reinforce long-term behaviour changes in drivers. If you knew that police were set up on a schedule, you’d adjust your speedonly on that schedule. Uncertainty means you’re kept on your toes, and eventually the message goes out: slow down here at all times.

    3. More speed infractions take place on roads that have little traffic or obstructions (like parked vehicles, pedestrians, etc). You’re not likely to enforce speeding on Queen and Bay during the day. You are, however, much more likely to catch other moving infractions such as running a light or a cyclist who doesn’t know or care what a stop sign is. Putting a radar gun on a congested street is an invitation for someone to scream about inefficient use of police resources.

    4. Wide, generously-spaced roads with not much reason to stop or slow down and which are close to areas of congestion are *precisely* the places where police need to enforce speed. A lot of research has shown that only a small percentage of people actually obey the speed limit because it’s the speed limit; far more drivers determine the “best” speed based on traffic flow and their perception of risk, the so-called “traffic friction” effect. This section of road, a relatively free-flowing part of an otherwise congested and dense Bloor/Danforth roadway, means there is a natural tendency to speed here. That speeding likely as not will continue into the more congested areas, increasing the risk of a collision and/or injury.

    As an aside, police won’t stop you for going a few km over the limit — it truly is the high fliers they’re after. The whole notion of “reasonably excessive” is not applicable.

    It is practically a sport to accuse police of caring more about speed enforcement revenues than about actual safety. But when did 57 fatalities on Toronto’s streets in 2006 count for nothing? When so many collisions occur because of excessive speed, seems to me like speed enforcement is a no-brainer.

  26. Speeding should be enforced. There is no argument. However, accidents happen because of what people do at ANY speed. No one automatically caused an accident due to speed alone. I that were the case we’d have no police cars left. They speed all the time.

    A very high percentage of cars on the road are technically speeding. Yet so many make it through the day without magically causing an accident. If you conducted real statistics you’d likely find that speeding is the safest of the laws to break compared to others which “cause” accidents. Hundreds of thousands of cars are speeding right now at this very moment. Don’t take this for a defense of speeding, but to point out that running a red for instance is more likely to “cause” an accident.

    The statement “speed was a factor” is silly and overused. Unless the car was traveling zero km/h of course speed was a factor. What about the action they made that caused the accident to begin with? (save road conditions at said speed) No one ever gives those details. Why? Easy, because if you promote one offense you can justify enforcing it broadly -hence the speed traps. More resources should be put towards the rest of the driving rules as well. Stop signs, failing to signal, passing on the right, etc. That is far harder to enforce and takes more effort than anyone seems willing to commit. Of course unless it is a media covered blitz.

    If the police were truly intending on slowing motorists down, they value police presence over ticket volumes. Everyone slows when they see an unexpected police car. Job done, community safer. That however does not create revenue, or bold headlines, or catch the bad guy. Every time you see a police car hidden, is proof that mass safety is not the concern, but actually catching individuals is. While this does catch the worst of the worst and possibly get them of the road, at the cost of overall total safety. A combination of both is required. A successful day of policing would be 8 hours without one single violation. Safer roads. That is the goal in the end. If that ever happened though the budget would dictate that less police were required. Foolish but the way of things.

    With more presence the worst of the worst would still get caught; and of course if everyone else is driving slow, then those wishing to speed simply can’t so easily due to traffic pace.

    As for regular speed traps in the same location, well, the fault there is “the same location” not the timing. If people never knew when or where traps would to be, they would be more likely to obey due to fear of being caught. Knowing that Bloor street by the old mill and on the viaduct has regular speed traps only slows people in those specific areas for instance.

    Bring on all the speed traps you want I say, but treat the other rules with just as much dedication. No one ever scared the crap out of me or caused a near miss because they passed me properly while speeding, but I’ve had countless near misses under the speed limit by poor drivers not obeying other laws.

    It is easy to say police are just out to make ticket money. Well… that is hard to deny since everything runs on budgets and the city declares tickets a source of income. Perhaps if all traffic violation income was paid to Sick Kids Hospital , cancer research, or something else unrelated to the city budget we’d see a different style of enforcement.

    All that said, I have little faith that the right thing will ever be done since some paid to enforce the laws can’t seem to obey the laws themselves.

  27. What got me was cops closed the entrance ramp to a highway causing all the highway users to re-route. This caused them to be late to work, thus speeding. An unmarked car pushed from behind while 4 cars side by side in 2 lanes held a consistant speed. Cops pulled over all 4 cars and even stated “you’re lucky I’m not arresting you for racing” Racing??? I was 2nd in line being pushed by the cop. Next to me was a very elderly man driving a Mustang. We couldn’t have gone any faster because of the cars in front even if the “ole” man wanted to race. This cop was VERY rude and conveniently wrote the ticket for exactly 20 over the speed limit. Bogus Bull to me!!!

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