Photo radar tickets are a multi-billion industry in the US, and at $181.00 per pop, more than a $100 million business in Arizona. From December 2008 to March 2009 over 471,000 photo radar citations were mailed to drivers in our great state. (If you can’t do the math that’s over 5,000 photo tickets per day.) They have virtually nothing to do with highway safety, but they have everything to do with banking coin. If you can wrap your head around the full magnitude of the public and private interests that depend on ripping off drivers through photo radar traffic tickets in Arizona you begin to understand why this unethical (and probably illegal) system continues to grow every year, and why vigilante groups have emerged to fight a different type of outlaw in the new west.
Its about 2:30 in the early morning and I assume I am about to break the law with a bunch of people who are tied together only by their mutual hatred of photo radar. They call themselves the Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar--or at least that’s what they tell me, but honestly, I haven’t confirmed it, there is no way to confirm it, and nor do I want to confirm it. Wearing Halloween masks (I decided to be Jenna Jameson) and armed with several powerful pickaxes, sledgehammers and spray paint, they have driven me to an underpass on the Loop 101 Freeway in Phoenix; we're about to initiate a violent and, hopefully, surprise attack. For a half hour, some members of the “group” drive up and down the freeway in close proximity to where the rest of us are hiding, under the overpass, away from the overhead lights. They're looking for police on motorcycles or in cars, constantly talking via cell phone to the “leader.”
Then all at once, the group bursts out of the darkness, advancing toward a tall steel box with a glass front: a photo radar device installed by Australian-based Redflex Traffic Systems. As if on cue, two ladders we are carrying go up the side of the steel box and the group begins to violently attack the photo camera like the angry townspeople they are. At this early hour of the morning, the sound of metal smashing metal sounds overwhelming to me as I watch in shock, which then dissolves to a smile on my face. In less than 30 seconds the attack is over and the metal box, although still intact, looks like the military strafed the shit out of it. (The photo above is right when the cops found the damage.)
Why is everyone in Arizona so pissed off by these things? On July 1, 2008, Redflex Traffic Systems won a contract with the State of Arizona to install 60 photo-enforcement cameras on the state’s freeways and to build another 40 mobile photo-radar vans. The 100 new photo enforcers now dot Arizona’s highways from Flagstaff down to Tucson and all places in between. It's been estimated that Redflex, which operates the cameras, made about $35 million during the first year of operations. And wouldn’t you know, the same company that’s making bank off your lead foot is also the key-witness testifying against you if you try to contest one of its tickets (which is a total conflict of interest, though the State don't seem to care.)
After the whopping success of the first year (ie much dinero), our then Governor and now Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, expanded the program to make Arizona the one state with more photo radar and red light cameras then any other State in the country. Then, to add a bit more of state control to things, she took local enforcement of those cameras away from the cities and assigned it to The Arizona Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) thus stealing the revenue stream from the cities to the state--and a lucrative stream of coin it is.
In late 2008, Governor Napolitano announced her expectation that the state's new freeway speed cameras would generate $90 million in net profit for fiscal year 2009 (which they did). In the following year, she estimated the State’s revenue will jump to $120 million, plus $45 million more for the Reflex’s of the world, for a total of $165 million. After 2010, revenue is expected to exceed this amount significantly as the program grows beyond 100 fixed and mobile speed cameras.
At about the same time as this announcement, February of last year, the US Department of Transportation released a study confirming speed is not a major cause of accidents. Overall, vehicles "traveling too fast for conditions" accounted for only five percent of the critical pre-crash events the report explained. More significant factors included 22 percent driving off the edge of a road, or 11 percent who drifted over the center dividing line.
Despite this, Napolitano had been consistent in maintaining the primary motivation for the program has been traffic safety and not revenue.
And here’s the totally scary part: the document released from her office asked the legislature to change state law to allow for the possible use of photo radar systems to detect violations inside your car. This new technology would use infrared cameras to peer into our vehicles and mail a ticket to the owner of any vehicle not wearing a seat belt or thought to be carrying too few passengers required for travel in the faster carpool lanes known as HOV (High Occupancy Vehicles) lanes. This also means the government will know whether or not your lady swallowed.
But they have to be able to see your face to know it's you, which brings us to Dave Vontesmar, also known as the Monkey Man. Dave’s been cited--or rather, his vehicle has been photographed and cited--37 times for speeding by the photo radar/red light cameras. In every photo, however, the driver of the vehicle is wearing a monkey’s mask. Why? Well the only way opponents claim you are liable for a ticket is if the State can prove you were the driver of the car and then the State must serve you with the citation personally, which usually requires hand-delivery. Thus, if a monkey is seen driving Dave’s car, how can Dave be cited for the ticket? That legal fight continues.
If you're not one of those honest folks (the ones that bend over, take it in the ass, pay the fine, and mail the ticket back) and if the ticket is never served--which usually requires hand-delivery--the citation is completely dismissed 120 days after it was filed with the court. So that's nice, if you know about it. Still, no one knows if the photo radars always record accurate speed, though there have been a number of recent cases that want to make you scratch your nuts and say “oh contraire.” In late 2008, the Arizona Secretary of State publicly blasted Redflex for falsifying certification documents on the accuracy of the cameras. Redflex has since apologized for their errors--in words, not refunds.