East Valley police agencies are taking a wait and see approach to a proposed law that would limit when their photo radar systems could ticket drivers who run a red light.
The law has the potential to reduce citations, along with revenue to programs that generally are money-losers for police.
The bill would require the sensor that triggers a camera to be moved back from the intersection, more than a car length.
Photo radar opponents Shawn Dow said that because 90 percent of tickets are issues to drivers within one-tenth of a second after a signal turns red, the change would significantly reduce citations.
“Moving it a little bit will buy some time for the drivers,” Dow said.
Dow, of Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar, said the economics of the change could make photo radar less attractive to Arizona communities.
In the East Valley, photo radar is used by police in Mesa and Chandler.
Mesa police said they typically don’t comment on pending legislation, and a Chandler spokesman said the agency didn’t know enough to comment.
Photo radar advocate Joannna Peters said the bill could reverse progress Arizona has made in reducing deaths resulting from red light runners. Arizona was No. 1 in red light running deaths when the Red Means Stop organization formed in 1998, Peters said. She attributes increasing use of photo radar, along with a publicity campaign, for Arizona improving to No. 6 nationwide. She fears drivers would be less careful with the legislation that could result in fewer citations.
“If it reduced tickets, I think it would increase fatalities,” Peters said.
Photo radar has reduced deaths in some cases.
A 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found red light fatalities in Chandler dropped 79 percent because of photo radar. It found photo enforcement in 14 large cities across the nation reduced fatal red light crashes by 24 percent.
However, collisions dropped slightly after Tempe suspended its photo radar in 2011. Intersection crashes fell from 101 to 93, when comparing the first six months when the cameras were off to the same period a year earlier.
Dow said flashing cameras startle or blind drivers, leading to more crashes. He argues photo radar is unconstitutional and a cash cow for cities. However, East Valley cities have typically lost money because a significant portion of each citation goes to the Arizona Supreme Court and to the vendor that operates the system.
Mesa lost about $800,000 in a three-year period. Chandler lost about $22,000 in the 2009 fiscal year, but made nearly $150,000 the previous year.
Tempe lost $15,000 a year when it suspended photo radar in 2011 amid a legal fight with Redflex Traffic Solutions. Redflex sued, claiming the city owed an additional $1.3 million in fees during the past three years, which would dramatically boost the city’s loss.
The proposed photo radar law would change how Arizona defines an intersection. Now, it is defined as an area within what would be imaginary lines extended from each curb. Drivers can be cited if the rear bumper of their vehicle crosses into the intersection after a signal turns red.
HB 2557 would define the intersection as the painted stop line, or the first crosswalk line, that a vehicle crosses when entering an intersection.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, who has proposed multiple anti-photo radar bills.
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