Montreal-area police equip schoolchildren with backpacks that display speed cameras

MONTREAL — Children in the Montreal area are becoming living speed cameras to get drivers to slow down in school zones as the city charges ahead with efforts to increase road safety.

On select dates, police in the metro area are equipping a handful of schoolchildren with backpacks that display passing vehicles’ speeds.

The concept, first developed in Quebec by police in the suburb of Laval, north of Montreal, in 2021, spread to Longueuil on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River last year. On Wednesday, the Montreal police force presented its first "living radars."

The striking demonstrations are part of a series of measures municipalities are deploying to better secure school zones this year — an effort that took on renewed urgency last December when a seven-year-old girl who had recently arrived from Ukraine was killed in a hit-and-run on her way to school east of downtown Montreal.

"Living environments are not shortcuts, and they must guarantee safe travel for everyone," Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said in a statement this week. "Road safety is everyone's business," she added. "Every motorist must prioritize safety over speed."

Police in Montreal, Laval and Longueuil have all announced operations to crack down on dangerous driving around school zones this month.

Montreal is also reshaping its streets to better protect children, ramping up work to envelop school zones with pedestrian safety and traffic calming measures, such as raised crosswalks, enlarged sidewalks, speed humps and lane size reductions. The program — the first of its kind in Quebec, according to Plante — has made 92 schools safer since its launch in 2020, the city says. Eighteen more projects are underway and scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year.

Longueuil is following suit, with its own school zone safety plan coming "shortly," the city's mayor, Catherine Fournier, promised last week.

On Tuesday, Plante pointed to the rising number of serious road accidents as motivation to push forward with the urban redesign. Quebec's public automobile insurance corporation counted 38 fatal accidents in the Montreal region, including the city and on-island suburbs, in 2022, compared with 29 in 2021.

"Our aim is to do more, faster," the mayor said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2023.

Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press