Driving

Photo Radar

Traffic enforcement cameras – also known as photo radar – are devices placed along roadways and used to detect and record traffic regulation violations. They are commonly used to detect and record when drivers run red lights and exceed posted speed limits.

Arizona Revised Statute § 28-601 refers to traffic enforcement cameras as “photo enforcement systems,” which in turn are defined as devices “substantially consisting of a radar unit or sensor linked to a camera or other recording device that produces one or more photographs, microphotographs, videotapes or digital or other recorded images of a vehicle’s license plate for the purpose of identifying violators” of regulations governing “traffic signs, signals and marking” and “speed restrictions.”

Here in Arizona the use of traffic enforcement cameras is banned on state highways, and legislation completely banning their use by state and local agencies throughout Arizona – known as HB 2525 – was approved by the Arizona House of Representatives in February 2017. Supporters of traffic enforcement cameras say that they act as an important deterrent to dangerous red light running and speeding – because drivers know that they may be caught on camera and fined – and therefore greatly reduce accidents and save lives. Opponents of traffic enforcement cameras say that they violate drivers’ constitutional rights (under the Sixth Amendment) by taking away their ability to confront their accusers (in this case, the cameras) and question witnesses. Some also connect photo radar to an invasion of privacy rights. There are also concerns about accuracy.

For now, however, local governments in Arizona continue to be able to use photo radar. According to the Institute for Highway Safety (http://www.iihs.org), as of July 2017 the following Arizona municipalities have traffic enforcement cameras: Avondale (red light); Chandler (red light & speed); El Mirage (speed); Eloy (speed); Globe (speed); Marysville (red light); Mesa (red light & speed); Paradise Valley (red light & speed); Phoenix (red light & speed); Scottsdale (red light & speed); Show Low (red light & speed); Star Valley (speed); Superior (speed); Surprise (red light); and Tempe (red light & speed).

Under Arizona law, whenever a person receives a notice of violation in the mail from a local government in Arizona as a result of allegedly running a red light or speeding according to a traffic enforcement camera, that person cannot be compelled to either (1) identify who is in the photo or (2) respond to the notice at all (A.R.S. § 28-1602). Even though the notice may present the person who receives it with a limited number of options – paying the fine, attending a defensive driving class, declaring that they were not the driver, requesting a hearing – the person who receives the notice is under no immediate legal obligation to do anything. Because the notice is not an actual court-issued document but instead comes either from the municipality where the alleged violation occurred or (more likely) from the private company hired by the municipality to operate its photo enforcement system, the person who receives the notice is not required to act on it. However, as will be stated on the notice itself, a failure to respond to the notice may result in “official service” – formal notice from a court of law – that in turn may result in an additional fee being applied.

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