AZ Switches Off Speed Cameras For Privacy, Revenue Reasons

July 19, 2010

Last fall, we wrote about citizen initiatives to ban the use of traffic enforcement cameras in three small towns in Ohio and Texas.

Now, the backlash has intensified, with the state of Arizona switching off its 76 cameras altogether last Friday, when its contract expired with the private operator who maintains them, issues tickets, and bills the drivers caught on camera speeding on state highways.

The man banned, Tom Riall, is CEO of Serco, supplier of traffic cameras to the British government

The man banned, Tom Riall, is CEO of Serco, supplier of traffic cameras to the British government

Pulled over by the police

Pulled over by the police

Arizona joins Maine, which banned camera enforcement outright last June. With the latest addition, six states have now booted speeding cameras off their roads. (The others are Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.)

The state was the first to adopt camera enforcement for speeders, back in October 2008, but it banned them for two reasons: Infringement on individual privacy, and a belief that the operation was intended only to raise revenue, without independent, peer-reviewed data demonstrating their impact on road safety.

While the camera system issued more than 1 million tickets, only about a third were ever paid, and the money collected was roughly one-third less than the projected $120 million promised by the operator, Redflex Traffic Systems.

Almost 500 localities now use red-light cameras, which seem to evoke less negative reaction than speeding cameras, currently in less than 60 jurisdictions. In some areas--New York state, for instance--public support for red-light cameras is strong.

Red-light runners are most likely viewed as a far greater threat to other drivers and pedestrians than are the drivers who run a few miles an hour over the limit.

Fighting camera enforcement tickets in court is usually fruitless, with conviction rates over 98 percent--which has led irate drivers to some unusual protest tactics. One Phoenix Subaru driver wore a monkey mask while he or she racked up dozens of speeding tickets.

But the cat-and-mouse game between speeders and the municipalities that target them for revenue (and road safety, don't forget that one) is likely to escalate. The latest wrinkle is ... wait for it ... satellite-based speed tracking.

You have been warned.

[The New York Times]

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