The story below was written February 12, 2009 by Melanie Kiser, a sophmore at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
Debate Continues over Photo Enforcement
By Melanie Kiser
PHOENIX – Photo enforcement is speeding to a vote in Arizona.
A proposed 2010 ballot initiative, Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar, would ban speed and red light cameras statewide, and several bills in the Legislature would end or modify photo enforcement in Arizona if passed.
Opponents of the cameras argue the use of automated ticketing violates constitutional rights, jeopardizes safety and serves only to generate revenue for the government, among other issues.
“We serve at the direction of the legislature and the governor,” said DPS spokesman Bart Graves. “They told us to expand and operate the photo enforcement program, and that’s what we are doing.”
“Though there is a vocal minority against photo enforcement, you will find the public opinion polls in our state show support for photo enforcement,” said spokeswoman Shoba Vaitheeswaran of Redflex, which has 10 contracts in the state. “Also, the studies proving effectiveness at reducing collisions are numbered 11:1 compared to studies disproving. Redflex operates in 22 states and has camera systems in over 240 cities. Our customers understand that the systems work to increase compliance and improve the safety of the road by drastically reducing collisions and fatalities.”
Its competitor, American Traffic Solutions, has eight large municipal contracts in the state.
“Regarding the statewide DPS program, ATS is against ending the program, but we do have a ‘mend it, don’t end it’ perspective,” said ATS spokesman Josh Weiss.
Many bills introduced in the Legislature have a similar approach. House Bill 2124, for example, would only ticket drivers going more than 20 mph above the posted limit or more than 35 mph in a school zone.
“In the end, it comes down to two simple questions. Do you consciously stop speeding or do you make sure that you don't run a red light when you know that a camera is present? If the answers are yes, then the program is working and thus achieving the safety goals of reducing violations, crashes and injuries.”
Many opponents argue the cameras do not improve safety and do not protect citizens the way live law enforcement officers would.
Studies and statistics mostly indicate the opposite, Graves said.
The program reduced average speeds by approximately 9 mph and reduced total collisions by 44 percent, total injury crashes by 28 percent, single vehicle crashes by 59 percent, and sideswipe collisions by 33 percent, according to a study by Arizona State University for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS).
“We’ve seen collisions reduced substantially by the use of cameras,” Graves said. “People are definitely slowing down.”
The impact on rear-end collisions is up for debate, however.
The same study originally found a 14 percent increase in rear end collisions from the “before” period to the program period. Once adjusted for increased traffic flow and other time trends, researchers found an 18-23 percent decrease, but they deemed this change “statistically insignificant.”
Opponents of photo enforcement do not accept the study, or others like it, as proof that the programs improve safety. Attributing safer driving conditions to photo enforcement programs raises questions because it is “difficult to adequately study all of the issues that go into safety,” said Susan Kayler, attorney and author of “Smile for the Speed Camera – Photo Radar Exposed!” in an e-mail.
Areas with photo enforcement exhibit “artificially low speed limits,” Kayler added. “When drivers brake for photo radar they cause the real danger, which is speed variance.”
As for the opinions of Arizona voters, a recent poll sponsored by ATS found broad support for photo enforcement—63 percent of voters said the DPS cameras should continue ticketing speeders going over 11 miles per hour, and 84 percent believe city police departments should continue to use cameras to ticket red-light runners.
“Regretfully, I believe that the general public would agree to continue the photo enforcement,” said attorney John Banta in an e-mail. “Too many people are willing to forgo their rights for a bit more security.”