Illegal operation of radar sidelines 2 speeder vans
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 08.14.2008
PHOENIX — Arizona motorists have nothing to fear from the state's two mobile photo-radar vans — at least not today.
The two vans are parked after it was discovered that the speed guns being operated by Redflex Traffic Systems employees had not been certified by use by the Federal Communications Commission. Because they emit radio waves, that makes their operation illegal.
Redflex officials would not comment, referring all calls to the state Department of Public Safety, which contracts for the two vans.
DPS Lt. James Warriner said he believes the problem is only temporary. Warriner said Redflex has assured the agency it now has the required approval.
But the vans won't be out there, taking pictures of drivers, until there is proof.
"We're just waiting on the documentation," Warriner said, adding that he hopes everything will be straightened out by the end of the week.
DPS spokesman Bart Graves said he does not believe the problem Redflex is having with the FCC affects a new contract awarded to the company last month to put 100 fixed and mobile speed cameras on highways throughout Arizona. Those first cameras are supposed to be in place in late September.
And Warriner said DPS does not believe that the operation of the two photo radar vans outside of FCC regulations affects the validity of the approximately 4,800 tickets issued since the units were deployed in the Phoenix area last November.
That puts the agency in alignment with Karen Finley, president of the Scottsdale-based company. In a letter last week to DPS Cmdr. Thomas Woodward, Finley said the FCC certification relates only to the question of whether the radio waves being emitted by the photo radar units do not interfere with other electronic equipment. She said tests performed on both units showed they were functioning adequately in their prime mission of measuring how fast motorists were going.
"Citations were issued only where drivers were actually speeding at or above the DPS-mandated speed threshold," she said, which currently is 11 miles per hour over the posted limit.
But Finley said Redflex would refund any fines if that is what DPS wants.
Graves said the problem with the vans came to DPS' attention in part because of a protest filed by American Traffic Solutions over the decision to award that new contract for 100 speed cameras to Redflex.
American Traffic Solutions, also based in Scottsdale, contends the bid from Redflex should have been disqualified because it was operating its existing photo radar illegally.
The amount of money at stake could be significant.
The DPS contract with Redflex gives the company up to $28.75 for every photo radar citation that is paid. While the contract does not spell out how much that will be, legislation approved earlier this year assumes the state will pay out $20 million to the successful bidder over a nine-month period.
Finley, in her letter to DPS, called the failure to get the radar certified an "honest oversight."
"Unbeknownst to me until recently, there is a difference between a radar unit being FCC-compliant and a unit being FCC-certified," she wrote.
But Josh Weiss, director of communications for American Traffic Solutions, said in a prepared statement that the explanation makes no sense given that photo radar is the company's prime business.
Weiss said Redflex should be required to refund any fines that resulted from use of the uncertified photo radar cameras.