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Don't Smile for the Camera

Traffic speed cameras are now used in 45 cities nationwide. Theoretically, bringing in revenue through speeding tickets instead of taxation while promoting public safety appears to be a win-win proposition. In reality, it just fuels more wasteful government spending.

In Arizona, speed camera revenues fund a new, optional, experimental government agency that only a few other states have tried, Clean Elections. Clean Elections provides public funding for politicians to run for office, and since it originated in 2000 has not resulted in "cleaner" elections. A 2003 study  (pdf) by the General Accounting Office (GAO) found no significant changes in Arizona and Maine, the two states that initially implemented it.  Other studies found little impact or even a negative effect (pdf) on lobbyist influence, incumbency, and the types of candidates who run for office.

Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano forced the implementation of speed cameras statewide promising to fix the budget, but Arizona still had the second worst budget deficit per capita in the nation last year (only California was worse). Speed cameras aren't profitable, studies have shown that government collects less than half of the amount of each ticket, and much of that is used up handling court appeals, since approximately 40% of those who receive tickets appeal them.

Government officials freely acknowledge that the purpose of speed cameras is not safety, but revenue generation. In Arizona, speed camera tickets do not add any "points" to a driver's record; hypothetically a speeder could get hundreds of tickets and continue driving without a blemish on his record. Speed cameras take police officers off the streets and put them somewhere else -- leaving more drunk drivers on the road. A flash from a speed camera is not going to stop a drunk driver, who is free to continue driving drunk. Results of studies are conflicting on whether speed cameras have actually reduced accidents.  

Speed cameras are less forgiving than police officers. In Arizona, the law defines speeding as driving at a speed that is above "reasonable and prudent" under the circumstances, and states that driving above the posted speed limit is only "prima facie" evidence that the speed is not reasonable and prudent; it is not decisive. This is why when a police officer pulls a driver over for speeding, there is discretion whether or not to give the driver a ticket. If it is a clear day, there is no one else on the road, and the road is straight and flat, a police officer will probably not give someone a ticket for driving 67 mph in a 55 mph zone. The camera allows no discretion.

Another problem with speed camera tickets is they fail to give people proper notice as required by law. The Arizona Court of Appeals has held that any speeding ticket that is not personally served is invalid. This has resulted in an exorbitant waste of money as speed camera companies hire process servers to serve ticketed drivers, who often avoid service of process, allowing them to avoid paying the ticket. The paperwork costs add up. Other drivers avoid paying tickets by simply returning them with a notation that they were not the driver, resulting in immediate dismissal of the ticket.

The Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause, which is also echoed in Arizona's Constitution, gives the accused the right to be confronted by witnesses against him. With speed cameras, the driver is never confronted by a police officer ticketing him. So far, local governments have skirted around constitutional protections by classifying speed camera tickets as civil, not criminal violations. Efforts to challenge the tickets based on constitutional grounds that appear to have a chance at succeeding are simply dismissed in favor of the driver, swept under the rug by local governments before they can be fully adjudicated.

Arizona State Treasurer Dean Martin has argued that speed cameras are unconstitutional, because they constitute a tax. Under Arizona's constitution, tax increases require 2/3 vote of the legislature. The vote authorizing speed cameras on state highways passed with only a simple majority.

Opposition is mounting to speed cameras. Vigilantes are destroying speed cameras worldwide and posting stickie notes over them. Texas has banned all speed cameras, even red light cameras, and seven other states have implemented various other laws against them. Red light cameras raise slightly different issues. There is a fundamental difference between speed cameras and red light cameras. Running a red light is a per se violation of the law -- it is always a violation of law. Whereas speeding is a subjective decision that requires the discretion of a police officer.

Arizona has certainly had enough of the "Janet Cams." Websites like and are spearheading the opposition. A ballot initiative is being drafted that will ban all cameras in Arizona. Republican Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeau ran on a platform of eliminating speed cameras last fall and won. Incoming Republican Governor Jan Brewer summed it up well: "It's everywhere from Costco to going to church… 'get rid of that photo radar.' Everybody that I've spoken (with), other than two or three people, they don't like it."

Letter to the Editor

Rachel Alexander is co-editor of


Craig| 1.14.09 @ 6:46AM

FYI: Red light cameras are alive and well here in Houston.

Jason| 1.14.09 @ 6:49AM

But how is big brother going to generate the revenue he needs if you take away his cameras?

Rocco| 1.14.09 @ 7:21AM

Get rid of 'em!!!!!!

Jeremiah| 1.14.09 @ 7:23AM

In Europe where they're used by various governments as racketeering devices they are regularly torched, spray painted or sniped at. No doubt Hussein will adopt them in Washington DC.

Paul D| 1.14.09 @ 8:41AM


We already have them in DC. Everywhere.

Don| 1.14.09 @ 8:45AM

We have cameras on a busy road in Chevy Chased , MD and all they do is force traffic to slow down for the camera. Once past the camera they speed up so the police then set a speed trap about a block away and ticket violators. People have received both a speed camera ticket and one issued by an officer.
We have also seen an increase in fender benders as drivers suddenly slow down.
Safety my arse.

Neo| 1.14.09 @ 10:53AM

I don't have the link, but there is a site in the UK that documents the destruction of speed cameras. The favorite tactic is placing a tire filled with gasoline on the camera ( "a necktie" I believe) and letting it burn.

chicago born| 1.14.09 @ 11:10AM

Chicago mayor daley- you reading this.

Steve| 1.14.09 @ 11:33AM

Good article, but Texas has not banned red light cameras ( if only it were so). They are spreading like fungus throughout the state, in small towns and large.

Tejas Forever| 1.14.09 @ 11:39AM

Here in DFW, TX they red light cameras are "under fire" for the upkeep and maintenance costs being levied against the city vs. the actual revenue gained from them. It appears they are costing more to operate than the revenue generated...

Serves them right.

L. Ross| 1.14.09 @ 11:50AM

The whole darned thing reminds me of 1984. (the book) Way too much government intereference and intrusion.

texan| 1.14.09 @ 12:36PM

just goes to show you, if you watch anyone long enough, you'll find them doing something wrong. it's as true for drivers as it is for politicians.

Hank Archer| 1.14.09 @ 12:59PM

Don't remember where, but kids photographed license plates of people they didn't like (principals, teachers, etc.) and printed out life size copies of the plates, taped them over another car's plates and intentionally sped through these cameras. I imagine that town will be removing those cameras.

Lonn| 1.14.09 @ 2:27PM

I am currently at work, looking out my window at a red light camera here in Dallas, Texas. They seem to be multiplying like rats.

I haven't seen any speed cameras though.

bob montgomery| 1.14.09 @ 3:25PM

Why no outrage from liberals, libertarians, anarchists and conservatives, all who hate authority abuse? Its only the Democrats and Republicans and the camera makers who think big brother and violation of privacy is a good thing.

Hulk| 1.14.09 @ 6:06PM

Join National Motorists Association and fight the cameras. Red light cameras have a decreased yellow time relative to the posted speed limit in order to snare you. We have programs operating right now to fight the state sponsored snoopers.

Scrapiron| 1.14.09 @ 10:16PM

Somewhere there is an electronics genius who can build a small device to fry the 'privacy invading' camera's. Their use must be another tactic the democrats adopted from the Nazi's.

Daniel| 1.15.09 @ 1:25AM

There is such, a thing as the Spirit of the Law and the Letter of the Law. Before the Letter of the Law is applied, the Spirit of the Law must First be Broken. Meaning, in dealing with traffic laws, the Spirit of the Law is based on Traffic Safety. If any said action which has not caused Traffic Safety to be impaired then, the Spirit of the Law has not been broken and the Letter of the Law cannot be applied. Example: If you failed to come to a complete Stop at an intersection and yet, there was no traffic at the intersection where Traffic Safety would be a concern then, you have not broken the Spirit of the Law. Therefore, on such action, the Letter of the Law cannot be applied. However, the Criminal Looters who run the State and Local Governments will side-step the Citizen's Rights and will go forward in an attempt to Steal his Money. Only if the Citizen knows his Rights and takes it up with the Court does he have a chance for Justice. Even, that is no guarantee and the Citizen may have to appeal to a higher Court. Guess what? You will find that your appeal is never brought forward and is so-called lost in the Court system. This is done by the Looters to protect their game-play from being exposed and precedent for such successful action and protection for the Citizen to be established.

Henry| 1.16.09 @ 11:28PM

Beware of the only-in-California "Snitch Ticket," a fake red light camera ticket sent out by the police to bluff the registered owner into identifying the actual driver of the car. Snitch Tickets have not been filed with the court, so they don't say "Notice to Appear," don't have the court's addr. and phone #, and usually say (on the back, in small letters), "Do not contact the court about this notice." Since they have NOT been filed with the court, they have no legal weight whatsoever. You can ignore a Snitch Ticket. If in doubt, Google the term.

Nathan| 1.17.09 @ 2:46PM

So much for freedom.....keep taking things away.

peteyp| 2.24.09 @ 5:30PM

feed them to the lions.....

Skizzle| 3.13.09 @ 6:37PM

Well, I live about 200 miles from Phoenix in AZ and was told about the tickets having to be hand delivered by a traffic cop a few years back. Now I dont even think of slowing down when in Phoenix, I was waving at the camera in the last picture they sent me.

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