State's speed enforcement camera plan called ineffective, 'classist'
By PAUL DAVENPORT, Associated Press Writer July 22, 2008 Email to a friend Voice your opinion Motorists speeding on Arizona highways face the prospect of getting citations generated from photo enforcement cameras starting as soon as September, now that a company has been picked to run the statewide system. Gov. Janet Napolitano says it's all about traffic safety and that any new state revenue is a bonus. But some critics contend her approach undercuts her stated goal.

The Department of Public Safety announced Thursday that Scottsdale-based Redflex Traffic Systems won the contract and that the company should have 50 fixed and mobile cameras in operation by the end of September and a total of 100 by January.

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 cameras won't risk getting points that could lead to license suspensions or revocations or higher insurance premiums.

"You remove a very significant financial penalty that can be every bit as important as the state sanctions for penalizing violations of the law," said David Snyder, vice president and general counsel for the Washington-based American Insurance Association.

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.

"Basically, it creates a classist speeding society: if you have the money, you can speed," said AAA spokeswoman Linda Gorman.

A DPS spokesman declined comment on the reporting prohibition except to refer to the authorization law. Napolitano has said the provision helps minimize the program's administrative burden, particularly for courts.

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, Napolitano said July 2.

"This was designed to be as little paperwork as possible and that's just the way it is," she said.

"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."

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.

Along with insurers, law enforcement officers making a judgment call on whether to issue a citation or a merely a warning won't have information they should have, said Nicole Mahrt, a spokeswoman for the insurance association. "He won't know you've already sped four or five times."

Mahrt noted that Scottsdale's camera program caught one woman speeding more than 20 times. With the state's program, "that's a pattern for behavior and that's something that law enforcement and insurance would look at it but we're not going to have that."

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.

Rasmussen said the association will examine whether the reporting prohibition violates federal regulations or Arizona's commitments under multistate traffic-safety agreements.

With the Legislature approving the budget and its photo enforcement provisions in a 36-hour period in the session's final week, "there was no opportunity for public input," said Gorman.

Napolitano included photo enforcement in her proposed budget in January but a bill that would have implemented it was never heard, being disavowed by its sponsor.

Lawmakers subsequently only considered - and rejected - measures to prohibit photo enforcement, leaving Napolitano to push for its authorization as part of the budget.

Lawmakers ultimately included the authorization in the budget that ended up being approved by Democrats and a few Republicans.