Arizona to use photo enforcement cameras
By Paul Davenport
PHOENIX — Motorists speeding on Arizona highways will soon run the risk of getting tickets generated from a groundbreaking photo enforcement system.
The state on Friday will begin to deploy some mobile camera units that will eventually grow into 100 mobile and fixed devices - believed to be the nation's first such statewide deployment.
"We're going to be ready come Friday with some sort of photo enforcement," said Lt. James Warriner, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Citing public safety benefits demonstrated by cameras deployed by Scottsdale on a state freeway, Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2007 directed officials to develop a photo speed enforcement program.
Lawmakers balked but she won authorization for the program in the current state budget approved in June. She included a projected $90 million in new state revenue from citations.
The law authorizing the program mandates $165 citations for violators but bars courts from reporting violators to the state to include the citations in driver-license records.
That means speeders caught by the radar-using cameras won't risk getting points that could lead to license suspensions or revocations or higher insurance premiums.
Napolitano said the prohibition against reporting citations to the Motor Vehicle Division helps minimize the program's administrative burden, particularly for courts.
The program hit a snag when the state's contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. was challenged by a competitor, American Traffic Solutions Inc.
Arizona Department of Administration Director William Bell vacated the stay, saying the state law authorizing the photo enforcement program clearly states that the program is in the state's public policy interests.
American Traffic Solutions' challenge remains pending, and the company was deciding whether it would go to court to try to block implementation of the contract. "We're keeping all of our options open," said American Traffic Solutions spokesman Josh Weiss.
An Arizona Automobile Association spokeswoman said the motorist advocacy group is troubled by the lack of scrutiny the photo enforcement program got before being approved by the Legislature, the fact that net revenue goes into the state general fund instead of being targeted for road-related purposes and the "masking" of the citations themselves.
In July, Napolitano said just the citations and their fines should have a deterrent effect on speeding, as was seen when Scottsdale put cameras on a stretch of State Route 101.
"I think the idea is that people will be more inclined simply to pay the tickets if they're not getting points at least for the first go around, and they'll understand that there is a significant financial impact to this and that will itself be a significant deterrent to speeding," she said.
Napolitano said the prohibition against reporting citations can be revisited down the road. "We'll do this for the year or two and we'll see how it goes," she said.
The devices take digital photographs of vehicles that run red lights or otherwise disregard traffic signals. A copy of the photo, along with a ticket, is mailed to the vehicle's registered owner and the company gets a cut of the fine.
More than 300 U.S. communities in 25 states use such cameras, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They are used in major cities such New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington.
Opponents of the cameras criticize the practice as a clandestine surveillance method that infringes on civil liberties and denies drivers the right to contest a traffic ticket issued by an unseen accuser.
The Arizona Trucking Association hasn't yet taken a formal position on the photo enforcement provision but the "masking" of citations is a concern, said Karen Rasmussen, association president and chief executive.
"Our drivers are out there and our members want to know if our drivers are speeding because we don't want them speeding. The problem with the wording is that the owners are never going to find out," she said.
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