Traffic Cameras

Chandler's photo enforcement has steadily expanded since it was approved in 2001, when red-light cameras were installed at four intersections.

Darryl Webb

Arizona voters may finally get a chance to pull the plug on those controversial photo radar and red light cameras.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure late Monday to put the question on the November ballot. The 4-1 vote came despite objections from both cities and Scottsdale-based American Traffic Systems that these issues should be decided in each community at the local level.

But senators gave more weight to the comments of several individuals who contend the system is little more than a way for cities and counties to raise some quick cash.

That included Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, who recounted his own "horror story" of getting a photo radar ticket in Star Valley at 6 a.m. with no other vehicles on the road. He also said the posted speed limit was "artificially low."

"There was no way in the world that my speed was not reasonable and prudent," said Yarbrough, an attorney.

He pointed out that under Arizona law, that is the touchstone for when someone can be ticketed, versus simply driving above the posted limit. Had he been stopped by a police officer, Yarbrough could have made the argument that given the time, the weather and the traffic conditions, he was driving in a safe manner.

"I could have protested the ticket," Yarbrough told colleagues. "I've tried a few cases in my day."

And he said he might even have convinced a city magistrate to dismiss the citation.

"But the cost of driving back to Star Valley, defending that ticket, the time and the money involved, was far greater than the ticket," he said. "So I did what I guess most people do: I wrote a check and I took my lick, even though I believe, under the law, it was inappropriate."

Photo enforcement has been around for about two decades. But it gained greater attention after then-Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered cameras to be placed on state highways, at least in part to generate needed revenues.

That decision eventually was overturned by Jan Brewer, her successor. But the local speed cameras remain in place, as do the later generation of those designed to catch those who run red lights.

Stan Barnes, lobbyist for American Traffic Systems, said this kind of question is inappropriate for the ballot. And Dale Wiebusch who represents the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said if local voters are upset with photo enforcement they are free to either pressure the local council or even propose their own ballot measures.

But others had their own take on the system.

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, sponsor of SCR 1029, said photo enforcement was sold to the public as a way of improving safety without having to add more police officers.

"It is now clear that they're being used solely for revenue," he said. And Antenori told lawmakers if they need any proof, they need look no further than Tucson where the question of cash flow was part of a discussion several years ago about adding new cameras.

Tucsonan Mark Spear, a perennial foe of photo enforcement, said he also believes the system is rigged to make money.

He said, for example, that the yellow lights at intersections are set to be very short so that motorists approaching at the last minute are almost certain to trip the sensors -- and get a ticket in the mail for running a red light. And the problem, said Spear, is particularly acute in communities with "lagging" left-turn arrows, where the green turn indicator comes right before the light turns red for traffic.

"Photo enforcement is dedicated to giving tickets to little old ladies driving Buick station wagons making a left turn on an arrow," he said.

Antenori tried last year to have lawmakers themselves outlaw photo enforcement. But that measure died on a tie vote on the Senate floor.

He said this alternative amounts to "ultimate local control" because the voters themselves will get the last word.

(1) comment


This same SCR actually passed the Senate floor vote 20-10, Howard. What you're referring to is SB 1352, which tied.

It was Kirk Adams who killed the SCR by sitting on it in the House. He's out of the way now.

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