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Legislative Update: Traffic Camera Lobbyists Fight Back
Arizona enacts meaningless photo enforcement law while Tennessee legislators refuse to enact non-restrictive restrictions on photo ticketing.

Governor Jan Brewer
Lobbyists for municipalities and photo enforcement companies have succeeded in gutting attempts to place even the most minor of restrictions on the use of red light cameras and speed cameras in Arizona and Tennessee. For more than a year, the Tennessee General Assembly debated the wisdom of restricting the use of automated ticketing machines. A special study committee was established where state House members listened to testimony almost exclusively from representatives of cities and the private, for-profit companies that operate traffic cameras. The committee now has nothing to show for its effort.

On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee voted to scuttle its version of a bill that, although sold as a "restriction" on the use of cameras, reflected a compromise designed to ensure no party with a financial interest in the use of the devices would be offended. As amended in the House, the proposal would have:
  • Required warning signs, already in use in most jurisdictions
  • Prohibited red light camera tickets on a yellow or green light
  • Made the registered owner of a vehicle responsible for crimes committed by anyone else driving the car
  • Authorized the state transportation department to use speed cameras on freeways by declaring "work zones"
  • Forced a city council vote before installing cameras, which is already done
  • Required an engineering study, including setting yellow times at the already lowered ITE standard
  • Required a speed camera accuracy check once every six months
  • Allowed the state comptroller to audit any photo ticketing contract
  • Set the fine at $50, which is what cities already charge
Even though the legislation would have had virtually no effect if enacted, lobbyists feared that a meaningful restriction could have emerged from a conference committee reconciling the difference between the House and Senate-passed measures. For them, it was safer to drop the bill entirely. Earlier this year, the House committee had agreed to some minor protections for motorists, all of which were stripped out by the House amendment (PDF File view HB1341, as amended, 90k PDF).

Despite the dropping of the freeway speed camera program in Arizona yesterday, red light cameras are still active among municipalities statewide. In the name of protecting motorists, lawmakers enacted a signal timing "reform" that makes no difference to either existing practice or existing law. On Monday, Governor Jan Brewer (R) signed House Bill 2338, which adds the following line to the section of state code tasking the Arizona Department of Transportation with designating a manual setting standards for the use of traffic control devices: "The manual shall include the specification that the yellow light duration must be at least three seconds" (PDF File view HB2338, 20k PDF).

The legislation made no other change. Page 28 of Arizona Department of Transportation's Supplement to the 2003 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices already states: "A yellow change interval should have a duration of approximately three to six seconds." This line is taken verbatim from the federal manual, which is incorporated by reference as law in all fifty states (PDF File view MUTCD excerpt, 40k PDF).

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