Arizona legislation to rein in photo radar usage fails passage

Several bills offered for consideration at the Arizona statehouse this year died that called for limiting, or outright banning, photo-radar enforcement throughout the state.

Each piece of legislation missed deadlines to advance, effectively killing them for the year. Advocates for reining in use of the enforcement tool took action to thwart plans by Gov. Janet Napolitano to eventually deploy a total of 170 mobile and stationary enforcement cameras and red-light cameras along state roads. Local streets would not be affected.

The governor has been touting the use of speed cameras statewide since the city of Scottsdale used them for nine months two years ago along a stretch of Loop 101. The governor said the cameras that dotted a 7.8-mile stretch of the highway from Scottsdale Road to Shea Boulevard appeared to alter the behavior of drivers.

During the test period the cameras helped the city generate about $800,000 in profits, The Arizona Republic reported.

Doubting the governor’s stated concern, Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said earlier this year he believes the real reason the governor wants the cameras is to generate revenue, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Gould pointed out that Napolitano’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year projects $90 million in net revenue from photo-radar cameras. That could increase to nearly $125 million the following year.

In response, Gould introduced three measures to nix Napolitano’s plan.

One bill – SB1470 – sought to prohibit the photo-enforcement system on state roads. Out of concern the bill would not get beyond the governor’s desk, he also offered an identical ballot proposal – Senate Concurrent Resolution 1032.

The resolution was not subject to the governor’s veto because it would have gone before voters in November.

A third measure – SCR1033 – that also would have gone before voters was a backup. It required that a traffic study be conducted to determine speeds on any road sought to have photo enforcement. Only drivers traveling faster than 85 percent of other vehicles on the same stretch of road could have been ticketed.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety now sets its photo radar cameras to nab drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph.

Another dead bill called for giving drivers an earlier heads up about intersections with red-light cameras posted. Sponsored by Sen. Pamela Gorman, R-Anthem, the measure – SB1505 – would have required that warning signs be placed 600 feet in front of photo-red systems.

State law now mandates warning signs be posted at least 300 feet ahead.

Signed statements from law enforcement officers also would have been included to verify that two such warning signs were in place at the time of the violation.

A separate bill sought to give a break to certain speeders. It also would have put limits on speed radar use.

Sponsored by Rep. Lucy Mason, R-Prescott, the measure – HB2603 – wanted to reduce the penalty for speeding up to 11 mph in excess of posted speed limits from three license points to one. Drivers are required to attend traffic school after accumulating eight points in a year. Twelve points results in a license suspension.

Speeders caught by photo radar would have received one free pass, of sorts. The first violation in any 12-month period could not have been turned in to insurance companies.

Another provision would have benefited drivers who speed past multiple photo-radar cameras within a short period of time. Violations within five miles and 20 minutes of one another would have been reduced to a single traffic ticket.

The photo enforcement efforts now must wait until the 2009 regular session for further consideration.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Arizona in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor