Judge Provides Photo Radar Update
Judge Gerald A. Williams
North Valley Justice of the Peace
For a significant period of time, people received tickets for going 66 or 67 in a 55 mph zone. The problem was that the temporary 55 mph sign was often after the camera. As such, we have had hundreds of hearing requests. Thus far, drivers in this category have almost always been found not responsible at their hearing.
It is no exaggeration to avow that highway photo enforcement tickets have hit my court with such a significant volume that our regular business operations are almost in danger of slowing to the pace of a federal government bureaucracy. Some basic questions deserve an answer. Who is getting theses tickets? Who is getting the money from the fines? Will the law be “fixed” in the current legislative session?
Most of the Impact is on Four Courts: For reasons that are not completely clear, while some justice courts have a relatively few number of photo enforcement tickets, four courts received an avalanche. Those justice courts and the number of photo enforcement tickets they received in February 2009 alone are: Arcadia Biltmore (10,880), North Valley (9,062), Downtown (8,104) and South Mountain (6,791).
At North Valley, part of the problem was due to highway signs, or the lack thereof. For a significant period of time, people received tickets for going 66 or 67 in a 55 mph zone. The problem was that the temporary 55 mph sign was often after the camera. As such, we have had hundreds of hearing requests. Thus far, drivers in this category have almost always been found not responsible at their hearing.
Where Does the Money Go? It is worth repeating that former Governor Janet Napolitano’s budget materials, dated January 18, 2008, listed highway photo radar as creating $90 million in “Non-Tax Increase Revenue Generation.” It has brought in nowhere near that amount; but the money is still substantial, perhaps around $20 million in the first six months. Each ticket has a base fine of $165 and a surcharge for Clean Elections of $16.50.
Money from each photo enforcement ticket breaks down as follows: $16.50 to statewide public campaign financing, $13.48 to the Department of Public Safety, $25.17 to the Supreme Court of Arizona’s Administrative Office of the Courts, $29.70 to Red-Flex (the private photo enforcement company) and $96.65 to the State of Arizona’s general fund. Please note that neither the justice courts nor Maricopa County get anything from these tickets, other than perhaps a headache.
Will Someone Please Change This Law? The simplest and easiest fix would be to repeal sections B, C and D of A.R.S. § 41-1722. Doing so would essentially require highway photo enforcement tickets to be treated just like any other civil traffic ticket. Many of our problems result from the obvious unfairness of having substantially different penalties for otherwise identical speeding violations. A close second would be to repeal the highway photo enforcement law completely. Whether either of these things will get done, I have literally no idea.
The bottom line is that using photo enforcement tickets as a way to generate revenue has proven to be an extraordinarily bad idea. We now have a two tiered speeding ticket system on state highways.
If you are pulled over by a DPS officer, for going five miles over the posted speed limit, the presumed fine is $155; but, if found responsible, you also get two points recorded against your license and your vehicle insurance will likely increase as a result. If you receive a highway photo enforcement ticket, and you are found responsible, the fine is $181.50, whether you were going 76 mph or 106 mph, and nothing is reported to MVD. Hopefully, the state legislature will adopt a better system. I, for one, hope they do so soon.
Judge Williams is the presiding justice of the peace for the Northwest Regional Court Center. His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus