A proposal to allow photo enforcement of laws governing stopped school buses would force people who get any kind of photo radar tickets to rat out whoever was driving their vehicle at the time.
The proposal by Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, would eliminate the requirement that photo radar tickets have a picture of whoever is behind the wheel of a vehicle that is clocked speeding or goes through a red light. Instead, the only thing that would be needed is a picture of the license plate.
What that does is tie the violation to the vehicle rather than the driver, similar to a parking ticket. Thorpe said that would prevent insurance companies from raising the premiums of drivers who are caught violating the law.
The other side of that coin, however, is that vehicle owners who get these citations in the mail would no longer be able to escape a penalty simply by showing that they are not the person in the picture. Instead, they would have the choice of either providing the name of who was behind the wheel or paying the ticket themselves.
Thorpe’s far-reaching legislation, HB2366, also would allow schools put photo radar cameras on their buses even as pressure builds to ban the technology entirely.
He said schools have told him there is a problem with motorists ignoring the legal requirement to stop when a bus is loading or discharging students. He said mounting cameras on the buses should help catch violators and potentially deter others.
The legislation comes as Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, has introduced SCR1010, asking voters to outlaw entirely the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws. And Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, is pushing SB1241 to keep cities and counties from setting up the cameras on state highways.
Thorpe’s proposal also comes on the heels of a vote in Tucson to ban the city from using photo radar. Thorpe’s bill would appear to allow schools within the city to put them on their buses despite that vote.
HB2366 has provoked an outcry among “tea party” interests who have lashed out at Thorpe and the 10 other legislators who have signed on as cosponsors, putting many of them on the defensive.
“It’s interesting that the whole libertarian Facebook crowd is just crucifying me right now,” said Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who is on that list.
Finchem said he remains adamantly opposed to the use of photo enforcement, calling it “the sign of an Orwellian state.” And he pointed out that he also signed on as a cosponsor to Smith’s measure for a public vote to outlaw it.
But Finchem said he thinks that the issue with school buses is “a little bit different” and that Thorpe’s bill deserves to be heard.
Arizona law requires motorists to stop when a school bus has its flashing lights on and the “stop” sign on the left side of the bus extended. A first violation can draw a $250 fine; anyone convicted of three violations within 36 months loses a license for at least six months.
Despite those penalties, Thorpe said people ignore the signs and children get injured.
He said the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice says 24 percent of all school bus-related injuries are from kids getting on and off the bus.
“These injuries occur in the ‘danger zone’ about 10 feet from each side of the school bus,” Thorne said. “In these hazardous areas, children are at risk of being injured.”
So he wants to make it optional for schools to take pictures of offenders.
“I have no idea whether any school districts would take advantage of it,” he said.
Stephanie Boe, spokeswoman for Tucson Unified School District, said there have been “isolated cases” where there have been problems at a particular bus stop.
“However, we alert local law enforcement so they can take proactive steps and monitor the intersection,” she said. And Boe said there is another reason TUSD might not opt for photo enforcement.
“Given current funding, I can’t see how we would ever pay for something like this,” she said.
But Thorpe has an answer for that: Schools could work with private companies who would set up and operate the cameras — for a share of the ticket proceeds.
Thorpe acknowledged the increasing hostility of Arizona motorists to having traffic laws enforced by cameras that often are set up and operated by private companies for a profit. But he said this is different.
“Unlike speeding tickets or running a red light, you’ve got a flashing school bus dropping off kids,” he said. “You certainly want people to respect that and protect those kids.”
Thorpe said there are provisions in the measure designed to get the support of those who don’t like photo radar. Key among them is the provision linking the ticket to the vehicle.
At the minimum, that eliminates the need to take pictures of the driver — as well as any chance the photo could become public.
“The other advantage to that is because you’re no longer giving a citation to the individual, then the insurance companies cannot add (surcharges) to their insurance policy,” he said. But there’s a catch.
“Now, if you decide not to divulge who the driver of the car, of course you’re then stuck with the ticket,” Thorpe conceded, along with the hike in insurance premiums.
And Thorpe’s bill has something else: a cap on fines.
He said current law allows cities and counties, who get to keep most of the penalties, to set them pretty much whatever they want. His legislation sets the fine for most violations at no more than $150.
But there are exceptions.
Those who are caught speeding through school zones or driving more than 85 miles an hour would still face higher fines, as would those who pass stopped school buses.