11/16/2007Arizona Begins Statewide Speed Camera Push
Opening of statewide photo radar program in Arizona highlights how easily media are deceived.
At a press conference yesterday, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced that speed camera vans had officially begun issuing automated traffic citations on freeways throughout the state. Media accounts of this event contained a number of inaccuracies that followed statements by DPS Director Roger Vanderpool that highlighted the ticketing effort as, "the first photo enforcement program in the United States administered by a state-level law enforcement agency."
Several media outlets simply repeated this as a fact or as a quote without performing a simple fact-check. Relying on the Associated Press, KVOA television reported, for example, that: "Today Arizona becomes the first state in the nation to have a photo enforcement program run by DPS."
As TheNewspaper first reported last year, the state of Illinois began operating freeway ticket vans on May 19, 2006. Unlike the Arizona program which is entirely operated by employees of the Australian photo ticketing vendor Redflex, state troopers actually drive the vans under the Illinois program. The Illinois State Police hired Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) to operate all other aspects of the statewide automated ticketing program.
The statement that the DPS will "administer" the program is likewise misleading. The city of Scottsdale, which began highway photo ticketing with Redflex in January 2006, served as the inspiration for the new statewide effort. Scottsdale officials maintained at the time that a human police officer would review every citation before it was issued and that the police were in charge of every decision made. No human noticed that a black man was sent a ticket for an offense committed by a white man. No officer noticed that time, date and speed information was not printed on 1964 citations that led to $175,000 in refunds. A judge evaluated the operation of Scottsdale's program after hearing extensive testimony under oath in the case Arizona v. Gillespie and concluded, "There is no human involvement in the certification process whatsoever."
The lack of fact-checking extended to coverage of the safety effects of the devices. Just six freeway cameras in Scottsdale issued 110,962 tickets worth $17 million between January and October 2006. Scottsdale paid $75,000 to Arizona State University Professor Simon Washington -- a man with a history of supporting such programs -- to produce a report showing benefits to the system. Despite a glowing review, Washington's study did note a 54 percent increase in rear-end collisions and a 9 percent increase in injuries from rear-end collisions as a result of the cameras' use. Washington dismissed the effect saying, "Increases in rear-end crashes are traded for reductions in other crash types." No media reports yesterday mentioned the possibility of a negative side effect to freeway photo ticketing.
The UK's more extensive experience with speed camera enforcement provides the reason why an independent evaluation of the evidence is important. The UK Statistics Commission and British Medical Journal suggested last year that police intentionally underreported the number of injuries in photo enforcement areas in order to influence public policy discussions. The BMJ had documented that the number of traffic injuries reported by UK hospitals increased despite official police records asserting a decrease.
The Arizona freeway vans will first appear on state route 347. DPS officials offer no warning period to motorists and refuse to disclose ticketing locations in advance.