Traffic cameras

They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Add to that the Arizona Legislature’s annual push to ban red light and traffic speed cameras.

Every legislative session, there’s another version of this ban. Previous efforts have yanked the cameras from state highways and made mailed photo radar tickets essentially worthless paper. Still, the annual ban efforts keep coming. And every year, the sponsoring lawmakers repeat the same rationales. I can recite the anti-camera arguments from memory. Mostly because, once upon a time, I used to make those same arguments myself.

Until I changed my mind about photo traffic enforcement. For one simple reason: Photo traffic enforcement works.

We’ll get to that change of heart momentarily, but first let’s review this year’s ban, offered by two East Valley Republicans, Rep. Travis Grantham and Sen. Warren Petersen. Their bill adds a line to Arizona’s statutes: “A local authority or an agency of this state may not use a photo enforcement system to identify violators … (of state speed limits) … or of a city or town ordinance for excessive speed or failure to obey a traffic control device.”

So much for “local control” and letting cities and towns set their own community standards. That’s an argument for another day, though.

“There’s still constitutional issues with photo radar, there’s issues with due process, there’s issues with affording people the right to confront their accuser,” Grantham told the House Judiciary Committee last week. Per the Associated Press, Grantham also told the committee – which forwarded the bill on to the full House by a vote of 6-3 – that photo enforcement devices actually cause accidents when surprised drivers react wildly to the cameras going off.

My response to Grantham’s constitutional argument? Bunk. That attack has failed in courts nationwide, where more than 420 cities and towns use traffic cameras. My response to the safety argument? Grantham might be right. Occasionally, a shocked driver might cause an accident by mashing the brakes or swerving. Occasionally, a “photo enforcement ahead” sign might cause wild braking leading to a fatal collision. It could happen.

But here’s what I know actually does happen: Speeding and red-light running kills people. Every day. In 2016, according to federal data analyzed by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, car crashes killed more than 37,000 Americans. Speeding caused more than 10,000 of those deaths. And 52 percent of those 10,000 speed-related fatals happened not on highways, but on streets with speed limits below 50 mph.

Speed kills. For certain. So does running red lights.

Regardless, I hated traffic cameras when I moved to the Valley in 1995. I hated them more a couple years later, when I moved to Scottsdale, which had just phased in a tough photo program. The cameras felt too Big Brother. They felt like a “speed trap” revenue grab. They left open the possibility that the technology could be imperfect or invasive.

Fast forward 23 years: I drive more slowly now, especially when driving through Scottsdale, Mesa, Paradise Valley and Phoenix, where I know cameras lurk. Because slower speeds and caution at intersections equals fewer fatalities – a fact proven by 20 years of studies – I don’t want to ban traffic cameras. I want more of them. Not because I like Big Brother, not because I hate the Constitution and not because I like giving government my hard-earned cash in fines and fees.

I want more cameras because I’ve seen how you people drive. I want protection. Or, at the very least, a nice black-and-white photograph to commemorate you T-boning me the next time you run a red light.

– David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact david@leibowitzsolo.com.

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