Arizona Legislature Prepares to Defend Photo Radar
Arizona Senate committee votes to save photo radar and impose license points for freeway tickets.

Despite a brewing public revolt over the issue of photo radar, the Arizona State Legislature may be circling the wagons in an effort to defend lucrative automated ticketing programs. The Senate Public Safety and Human Services Committee voted 4-2 on Wednesday to increase the pressure on motorists by adding points to the drivers' licenses of anyone receiving a freeway camera ticket, instead of offering relief by banishing the machines from the highways, as some had expected. A statewide signature drive to ban photo ticketing continues to pressure lawmakers, but influential lobbyists in the statehouse have won the first battle.

The following lobbied on behalf of adding points to freeway tickets:
  • Wendy Briggs, American Insurance Association
  • Lanny Hair, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Arizona
  • Don Hughes, American Family Insurance
  • Don Isaacson, State Farm Insurance
  • Ellen Poole, USAA Insurance
  • Mike Williams, Arizona Highway Patrol Association
  • Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia

Each time a motorist receives a license point, his insurance provider can raise his rates anywhere from $50 per year to $1000 or more, depending on his driving record and the severity of the offense. With hundreds of thousands of photo tickets being issued on Arizona freeways, the legislative change represents the potential for millions in extra revenue for the industry.

The original push to remove license points actually came from American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the company that lost on on a bid to operate the freeway ticketing program to its arch-rival, Redflex. When points are not added to licenses, drivers are less likely to contest the ticket. ATS CEO James Tuton, 48, understands the plight of drivers in a personal way as he has been a frequent recipient of traffic citations himself. On Wednesday, Tuton was scheduled to be arraigned before McDowell Mountain Justice Court Judge Michael Reagan for a violation. Tuton will not be able to get out of this ticket by going to traffic school since he already attended a class in December to avoid the consequences of a citation issued by one of his own photo vans.

Observers inside the state capital offered several explanations for the apparent change of heart of some lawmakers. The most obvious is that facing a $3 billion budget deficit, legislators need the $100 million brought in by the freeway program to avoid having to make tough choices about cutting state spending or raising taxes. The second is that $16.50 from each photo radar ticket goes into a fund paid to the personal campaign accounts of politicians. Most importantly, however, sources noted that some lawmakers want insurance companies to have more of a reason to pour millions into a political campaign to defeat the citizen's ballot initiative that would shut down the cameras for good.

In addition to adding points to licenses, the legislation introduced by state Representative John Nelson (R-Glendale) was amended to make a number of minor changes to the way photo ticketing programs operate. Signs notifying of the presence of speed cameras would also have to indicate the speed limit. Speed traps would have to be placed more than 200 yards from a speed limit change. The state Department of Public Safety would have to release a report every six months on the amount of revenue collected by the ticketing program. The proposal now faces a debate in the full Senate and House where it would have to be approved before being sent to the governor.

A copy of Senate Bill 1291 is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Senate Bill 1291 (Arizona State Legislature, 6/19/2009)