Pandemic curbs speeding tickets but not Calgarians’ lead feet: city police

Although Calgary police handed out fewer speeding tickets during the pandemic, they also acknowledge that empty roads led to an upswing in speeding by some drivers.

The COVID-19 lockdown and fears of infection put the brakes on speeding tickets handed out in Calgary, say city police.

In the pandemic’s first three months, from March through May, the number of officer-issued tickets issued by city police fell to 5,494, down 46 per cent from the same time period in 2019 when 10,137 of the penalties were handed out.

In the first full month of the global outbreak — April — officers on the street issued a mere 983 tickets — a whopping 73 per cent plummet from the 3,589 the previous year, say city police.

It’s a tangible reflection of the reluctance of officers to expose themselves and motorists to the risk of infection, said Staff Sgt. Dale Seddon of the CPS traffic section.

“We really pulled the leash back in what we were doing in contacting each other — there was a lot less contact officers were making with people,” he said.

By June, when the economy began opening up and the city was becoming more acclimatized to COVID-19, those numbers rebounded.

But those falling numbers and those related to other speeding ticket categories are going to mean a financial hit to police coffers, said Seddon, who couldn’t provide specific numbers.

The CPS — and city — have already recently taken a $13-million hit, mostly from an increase to how much the province takes from fine revenue.

Seddon acknowledged a widespread view of traffic enforcement as largely a cash cow for police and government but insisted its priority is safety, a push that’s taken a hit due to COVID-19.

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“It is our stance that it’s about safety, and when we’re not able to engage the way we’d like to, it’s a concern,” he said.

And biting further into those revenues and a sense of deterrence, said Seddon, was the number of photo radar tickets snapped March through June, which were down by 20 per cent.

That’s a measure of the reduced volume of vehicular traffic on Calgary roads, said Seddon.

But that had another effect — providing more asphalt space that encouraged Calgarians to step harder on their gas pedals, he said.

From March through June this year, speed-on-green cameras pumped out 55,167 tickets, up from 49,365 in the same four months in 2019.

“You also certainly notice it anecdotally — people speeding around, taking liberty with the fact the roads were not as busy,” he said.

“People don’t realize (at intersections), they’re not just running red lights … It’s definitely a concern.”

In recent months, he said, police have also noticed an increase in racing activity that could be related to more leeway provided by emptier roadways.

But he said with the advent of more face-mask use, in-person enforcement has returned to something resembling normalcy while traffic volumes have increased with the re-opening of the economy.

And police say they’ll be stepping up speed enforcement when school returns next month, said Seddon.

“That playground enforcement is something we’re really getting up and running for September,” he said.

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