Arizona motorists are going to have to keep an eye out for those photo radar cameras for at least the foreseeable future.
Ditto red light cameras.
And that’s true even if their home communities don’t use the technology, as a number of Arizona cities and towns through which they may travel still do.
Gov. Katie Hobbs on May 26 quashed the latest attempt by state lawmakers to snuff out the technology that allows communities to use cameras to catch those who are ignoring posted speed limits or who proceed into intersections even after the light turns red. The governor said the evidence she has seen convinces her that the technology makes Arizona roads safer.
“Research indicates that photo radar cameras demonstrate effectiveness in changing driver behavior and decreasing fatal accidents, especially in vulnerable areas like school zones,” she wrote in her veto message. And Hobbs said she also believes that automating enforcement of traffic laws frees up police officers for higher priority needs.
“This bill’s ban of photo radar would eliminate an important tool for law enforcement that allows for a more efficient allocation of limited police resources,” she said.
The legislation was advanced by Sen. Wendy Rogers, who called it “an intrusion on our privacy.”
“It’s insidious,” said the Flagstaff Republican.
Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, had his own objections about having traffic laws effectively enforced by the private companies with whom communities contract. That enables the cities and towns to generate dollars without the costs of hiring more police.
But there’s more.
“Not only does the system corrupt and rot law enforcement, it further corrupts our elections and our entire political process,” he said.
That’s based on the fact that 10% of every dollar generated in photo enforcement fines goes into the Citizens Clean Elections fund. And that provides campaign cash for statewide and legislative candidates who agree not to take private and special interest money.
But what Chaplik did not say is the same is true for citations issued by police officers: 10% of those fines, too, fund the public financing system
Approval of SB 1234 came over the objections of some public safety experts.
The biggest was from Freeman Carney, chief of the Paradise Valley Police Department, which claims to have been the first in the nation to use the technology. He said his town’s experience proves the speed cameras that are deployed along the major roads work.
Carney told lawmakers that in 1986, before the cameras were installed, the town had more than 400 accidents.
When the cameras went in, he said, the number of crashes was cut by 40%. And there were just 148 in 2021 despite increased traffic and things that didn’t exist when photo radar was introduced like drivers distracted by cell phones.
More to the point, Carney said, his residents want it because it makes their main streets, used largely by those passing through, safer.
“Photo enforcement is not something a town does to their residents but for their residents,” he said in testifying against the measure.
Proponents of the ban, however, were not convinced.
Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, quoted a line by Ben Franklin where he said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
“At what point do we stop this?” she asked Carney, noting the cameras record not just the speed of the vehicle but also the license plate and the face of the driver. And, by definition, it notes where the motorist was at a particular time and date.
“Should we start putting cameras in front of people’s homes, too, to make sure that they’re safe?” Wadsack asked.
“I do not think we need to put cameras in front of people’s homes,” the police chief responded.
Others expressed different concerns.
Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, called the system “a huge violation of the Fourth Amendment” which protects against illegal search and seizure.
“Every single car that passes by these cameras, there is a photo take of their license plate,” she said.
“That information is then sent to a foreign company, foreign-owned company, which should make all of us nervous,” Jones said. Redflex Traffic Systems, one of the most widely used, is based in Australia.
Arizona used to have more widespread use of the technology.
When Democrat Janet Napolitano was governor she signed a contract with Redflex to place 100 fixed and mobile speed cameras along state roads. Napolitano used estimated new revenues to close a state budget gap.
In 2010, after she became governor, Republican Jan Brewer killed the contract.
Three years later Brewer signed legislation that restricted the ability of cities to set up speed and red-light cameras on state roads. And that was further cemented in 2016 when her successor, Republican Doug Ducey, inked his approval to legislation that removed existing cameras on those state roads.
One of the biggest effects was to force the town of Star Valley to remove its array of cameras along State Route 260, a major route for Arizonans making their way into vacation spots along the Mogollon Rim.
The cameras initially generated nearly $1 million in tickets annually for the town of about 3,000.
Local communities also have acted on their own.
In 2015 voters in Tucson effectively killed photo enforcement with approval of a change to the city code that made inadmissible any evidence gathered from automatic red light or speed cameras.
But various forms of photo enforcement remain elsewhere, not only in Paradise Valley but also Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, Mesa and El Mirage.