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The debate over photo radar

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Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 4:00 am

The debate over photo traffic enforcement, better known as photo radar, is definitely not over, as the Arizona Legislature will be considering House Bill 2579, which looks to ban this type of enforcement, in the current session.

Some of you may recall that last year a similar bill was narrowly defeated, leaving this year’s HB 2579 sponsors some hope that they can get rid of what many feel are pesky cameras at select red lights, along highways and posted along other busy streets in town.

Photo enforcement systems utilize digital cameras, computers and radar sensors to detect violations of speed limit and red light laws. There are two types of photo radar systems: fixed and mobile. A fixed photo radar system is the most common form of photo radar and can be installed on the side of a road or mounted overhead in gantries, while a mobile photo radar system is mounted on a mobile device. 

Photo radar typically utilizes two cameras to identify the vehicle and driver involved in speeding or red light violations.  One camera is utilized to produce an image of the oncoming driver’s face while the other camera is used to identify the vehicle’s rear license plate. 

Once you get through the technical aspects, the bottom line is cameras have been posted on our roads, highways and intersections to catch us breaking the law. In comes the debate. Should law enforcement be allowed to post those cameras and fine us when we get caught?

I have had three tickets in my lifetime. One from an actual cop when I was 19, and two from photo enforcement radar over the last three years, the most recent being a so-called red-light violation that I just paid last week.

I will say this, I was speeding two years ago when a highway camera caught me, and I apparently did cross the line thinking it was okay on a yellow light at the intersection of Oracle and River roads. In a way, I have admitted my guilt.

However, what these traffic cameras take away is the personal element. Take my speeding ticket for instance. The sign signaling I was entering a construction zone on the highway and to reduce my speed came up. I began slowing down. However, I didn’t slow down fast enough and the photo radar setup was pretty close to the new speed post.

If an actual highway patrolman had been there, I don’t believe I would have gotten a ticket, nor do I believe he would have wasted his time to stop me anyway.

At the end of the day, that ticket cost me $183.

Then, we come to my most recent ticket, the ticket saying I ran the red light at Oracle and River roads. However, just like the intersection at Kolb and Speedway, I, like many, question the lines and where and when the photos are being taken. It just feels like the flash goes off a little too quickly when you are actually already in the intersection on a yellow light. Like before, I wonder if an actual officer had been on scene would I have been cited?

Nonetheless, the ticket cost me $335.

Photo radar takes away the human factor. Law enforcement officials understand when mistakes happen, and most of them can read through the BS.

However, on the other side of the coin, there is the safety factor.

According to a Arizona State Senate brief from last year, an Arizona State University study found cameras in Phoenix decreased freeway speed by 10 miles per hour and they reduced the overall number of severe collisions.

It should be interesting to see what happens in this year’s session.

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