Committee shoots down plan to let voters decide red light camera use in Arizona

Arizona voters likely won’t be deciding this fall whether to ban the use of red light and photo radar cameras after state senators on Monday rejected a plan to send the matter to the November ballot. 

The proposal from Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers would have asked voters to enshrine a prohibition on the cameras into the state constitution. But the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Missing Children voted down her Senate Concurrent Resolution 1001. 

Sen. Frank Carroll was the lone Republican on the committee who sided with Democrats to shoot down the resolution on a 3-4 vote, saying that the issue should be decided locally and not through a statewide ballot question. 

Advocates have been trying to get the cameras banned for 16 years now, Rogers told the committee, claiming that the devices violate the U.S. Constitution and infringe on privacy rights. However, no court has ruled that traffic cameras are unconstitutional.

“This is a fundamental right to not have cameras watching us when we drive,” Rogers said. 

Last year, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a bill that Rogers sponsored that would have banned the cameras. Rogers has proposed the same bill again this year, and it was approved last week by the Senate Transportation Committee.

The resolution to put the issue to voters was Rogers’ attempt to skirt Hobbs’ veto stamp, as the legislature can send matters to the ballot without a governor’s approval. 

Mesa Police Commander Stephanie Derivan told the senators that allowing voters to decide what kinds of police tools should be banned “sets a dangerous precedent.”

The Mesa Police Department only has enforcement cameras posted at 16 out of more than 500 signaled intersections, and seven of those are in school zones, Derivan said. Around 45% of traffic tickets issued through the photo enforcement system in Mesa are in school zones, she added. 

While proponents of the cameras and police departments that use them say that they decrease collisions and increase safety, studies show that the results are mixed, and that while the cameras do decrease accidents caused by red-light runners, they have the potential to increase read-end collisions caused when drivers abruptly brake at a yellow light to avoid getting a ticket. This means that camera use doesn’t typically result in fewer crashes, but does mean fewer fatal crashes. 

Jay Beeber, director of policy and research at the National Motorists Association, told the senators that the cameras did not increase safety and were simply a way for cities to increase revenue by issuing more traffic tickets. 

Derivan said she’s never considered revenue generation as a factor in whether to use the cameras, and she added that the cameras were an important tool to free up officers to respond to violent crime, at a time when many police departments are struggling to staff their departments. 

Paradise Valley Police Chief Freeman Carney told the senators that he attributes the low number of deadly accidents in Paradise Valley, when compared to the rest of the state, to the town’s photo enforcement program. 

However, the numbers that Carney supplied were not apples to apples comparisons, saying that only three people had died in traffic accidents in Paradise Valley in the past 5 years, compared to an average of three traffic deaths every day across the state in 2022, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Transportation. 

Paradise Valley is tiny, at a little more than 15 square miles, compared to Phoenix’s more than 500 square miles. It has a population of about 12,600, compared to the state’s more than 7 million people, and no interstates or major highways run through the town. 

Carney also said that the town’s photo enforcement system serves as a valuable investigative tool that aids in the majority of crimes that the department solves. 

“I would say that I disagree that photo radar is a violation of privacy,” Carney said, adding that people shouldn’t have an expectation of privacy once they’ve left their homes and are out on the road. 

Residents, the Paradise Valley Town Council and its Public Safety Task Force have all asked for more radar cameras, Carney said. 

Shawn Dow, a Fountain Hills resident who has been advocating for a ban on photo radar since 2008, said that the resolution was “absolutely necessary because politicians cannot be trusted.”

He added that he believes that no politician who took campaign money from Arizona’s Clean Elections Commission would vote for the resolution, since 10% of money collected through civil penalties and criminal fines, including traffic tickets, goes toward the commission’s campaign funds. 

Rogers described Dow as her expert on how photo radar enforcement violations the U.S. Constitution. 

“You people have failed at your jobs,” Dow told the senators. 

The cameras violate several constitutional amendments, Dow said, including the right to confront your accuser and the right to a jury trial. Lawsuits making similar claims across the country have all been rejected by the courts.

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