Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

March 25, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Photo Radar


  • A bill to ban photo radar is in the works. State Representatives Sam Crump and Eric Meyer discuss the pros and cons of photo radar.
Guests:
  • Sam Crump - State Republican Representative
  • Eric Meyer - State Democratic Representative


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
A bill to ban photo radar on state highways was heard today by the house appropriations committee. More on the hearing in a moment, but first here's what some people are saying about photo radar.

Mike Sauceda:
House bill 2106 would have Arizona join seven other states that already ban photo radar. Right now, the Arizona Department of Public Safety is operating nearly 70 mobile and stationary cameras. The bill would also eliminate the photo enforcement fund, which was set up to provide money for the state's general fund. Here's what some people in downtown Tempe thought of photo radar.

Man on the street:
Not just half, not just 60% of them, I think all of them should be gone. Now, the little vans they have on the side with the cameras, I guess that's all right, the little mobile vans and things like that. But just the ongoing camcorder on the freeway at all times, I think that's invasion of privacy.

Man on the street:
I think this is a great thing. It reduces traffic accidents, people are more aware and alert that the photo radar is there. So people drive with more caution.

Woman on the street:
Pinal County, where we live, has just finished with photo radar. The sheriff has shelved as being inefficient and a cause of accidents. In Maricopa County, the blinding lights I think are horrible and can also cause accidents. What I didn't realize until recently is that we're kept on tape for a period of time, and I think that law-abiding citizens going about their business have no need of big brother watching who's going where. I think it's just horribly intrusive, and for a while I was on the fence. I'm no longer on the fence. No photo radar, thank you very much.

Ted Simons:
Joining me now is Republican Representative Sam Crump, sponsor of a bill to ban photo radar on state highways, and Representative Eric Meyer, a Democrat who's opposed to the measure. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizon." What bothers you the most about photo radar?

Sam Crump:
I think the most egregious or annoying part of them is just the big brother sense of government use of technology, which is growing all around us, but I don't think that's a justification, just to look the other way.

Ted Simons:
Do cameras, speed cameras in particular, do they do any good at all on state roadways?

Sam Crump:
I'll stipulate for purposes of this argument that they probably are creating slower speeds, at least where they're located. That's just at that location. People are basically learning where they are, slowing down, smile for the camera, and speed back up.

Ted Simons:
The big brother aspect of all this, is it a bit much to have cameras, especially video cameras, taping people going by on state roadways?

Eric Meyer:
Well, there is some concern about that. And I think the amendment that was heard today in appropriations addressed that to some degree. On the other hand, it does catch criminals. You can use that streaming video for accidents that have occurred at that site, and there have been cases where they've used it to prosecute people that have been caught on film.

Ted Simons:
Critics say this is, at its core, a money grab. Straight and simple. Can you respond to that?

Eric Meyer:
I wasn't involved in last year's budget, so it became part of the budget process. It was a revenue generator in the budget. But for me it's a public safety issue. The evidence is overwhelming in support of slower speeds, fewer accidents, and fewer fatalities. And as an emergency physician, it's important to me to support things that protect public safety, and this is one of those things.

Ted Simons:
DPS is coming out and saying these things do make the roads safer. Is DPS wrong about that?

Sam Crump:
Well, DPS's data, in each hearing where they bring this up, it's a shallow study they did. So something just came out recently in the media showing incidents and fatalities on highways in Arizona have been dropping for the last 10 years. For some of that they can't even explain why. So there's no direct scientifically sound evidence showing that these are doing that. But I'll stipulate again that these are probably reducing speed in these areas.

Ted Simons:
DPS also says that having these cameras out there free up uniformed officers for other things. Again, is that -- do you agree with that? Is DPS wrong?

Sam Crump:
You can look at that at a positive and negative. Their argument would be that frees us up to work on more serious crimes out there. But on the negative, I would say is it -- are they being used as a crutch? In other words, are they not patrolling these areas? Does this allow drunk drivers to do what they do on the highways? Because there's less patrol officers in the area?

Ted Simons:
Is there a law of unintended consequences with this particular law?

Eric Meyer:
If you talk to the DPS officers, they have not changed their patrols based on these cameras. They're still patrolling the areas they patrolled before the cameras were in place. So they're now able to focus on people that are trafficking drugs, drunk drivers on the roads, and addressing those problems and letting the cameras control the speeds in those areas.

Ted Simons:
There is some concern that speed limits are essentially by law suggestions. Reasonable and prudent drivers in certain situations use this as a guideline as opposed to a hard fast law, be it that limit, or 11 miles an hour over, whatever. What do you think about that?

Eric Meyer:
Well, the cameras cause people to travel at a uniform speed. And that translates into fewer accidents and fewer fatalities. That's the way they work. So it protects all of us on the road by doing that.

Ted Simons:
And we found out as of taping time this did pass out of committee today. Can the system be overhauled without getting rid of cameras on state highways? Speed cameras?

Sam Crump:
That would presume that one is okay with the use of the technology in the first place. And then of course one could tweak them with the signage or the speed limits at which you're going to get a ticket. My concern, and what a lot of people don't realize, the contract that DPS signed with the private company Red Flex, actually requires them to have the technology available to issue point A to point B tickets as well. Meaning, they could read your license plate when you leave Phoenix, and if you arrive in Tucson, if you got there too fast, they'll send you a ticket in the mail. That's an example of technology in the hands of the government.

Ted Simons:
And yet, I know some viewers watching right now would say, good. Get them. They're knuckleheads on the roadway, get them off the roads.

Sam Crump:
Sure, and then the next step could be using OnStar technology, to put a chip in every car and every time you commit any transgression, you'll just simply get your list of transgressions and a bill in the mail.

Ted Simons:
Back to red flex. The concept of the privatization of law enforcement, which is kind of what we have here, that does that bother you at all?

Eric Meyer:
On some level. I think when you asked about what could be changed, I think we need more oversight. There should be a committee that oversees this, I think DPS should be involved in making sure the cameras are working properly and calibrated properly. If we were going to privatize -- well, we have, but if we're going to keep it that way, I think significant changes in oversight need to be made.

Ted Simons:
How do you feel about that, the concept of privatization in law enforcement in this aspect?

Sam Crump:
To me that's not the big concern. To me, the fact the profits are going off to this company of a foreign company, it doesn't bother me that much. I think a lot of times I'm arguing for efficiencies by privatization. The real issue here again is the big brother. We've got several arms of government. We've got a justice of the peace that's thrown out hundreds of these because he believes it's an unequal application of the law. If you get a ticket from an officer you get points on your record, the same ticket from a camera you don't get points on your record. We've had a sheriff who's pulled them from his county. We’ve got a county attorney who’s said he’s not going to prosecute criminal speeding.

Ted Simons:
And yet, the bottom line, if people watching right now say I know driving the freeways it's not as crazy as it used to be, I'd rather have these things there. Is that bottom line not bottom enough?

Sam Crump:
Well, I understand that sentiment. But I don't think the question is public safety by any means. Certainly we have all sorts of constitutional protections, due processes, and so forth.

Ted Simons:
Last question, does this law turn otherwise law-abiding good, safe, responsible, reasonable drivers into criminals?

Eric Meyer:
I don't think so. It only targets those people that are speeding. So if you're not speeding you don't get a ticket.

Ted Simons:
But can you go faster than 11 miles an hour on an Arizona highway and not be speeding? Not driving in an unsafe manner?

Eric Meyer:
I would imagine that you could. If you -- if there is no one else on the road and it were a straight road, I would imagine people do that all the time. People are clocked at 130 miles an hour on these cameras and haven't been caught.

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