Arizona speed cameras may be flash in pan as $90m fines are ignored
Chris Ayres in Los Angeles
An attempt to introduce British-style speed cameras on the other side of the Atlantic has ended in a public revolt, with motorists binning speeding tickets worth $90 million (£60 million). The scheme in Arizona is now on the verge of bankruptcy and might be scrapped.
Its demise would mark an ignoble end to the first statewide effort to bring speed camera enforcement to the US, where many, including judges and elected officials, regard the devices as an unconstitutional taxcollection method.
“I see all the cameras in Arizona completely coming down,” said Shawn Dow, who is leading the public revolt via his chairmanship of Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar. “The citizens of Arizona took away the cash cow of Arizona by refusing to pay.” He is now trying to gain support for a ballot measure banning the cameras in November’s elections.
Although about 700,000 tickets have been issued since Arizona’s 76-camera plan was rolled out last year, a mere $37 million of the $127 million in fines and surcharges has been collected. That is because Arizonans have realised that they can simply ignore tickets sent to them in the post, and the authorities cannot prove that they have received them. Unless the tickets are served in person — something Arizona cannot afford to do — they become void after three months.
Motorists have shown their opposition to the machines in other ways, too — such as placing large cardboard boxes over them, decorating them with sticky notes, attacking them with pickaxes and, in one case, setting off the cameras while standing in front wearing a monkey mask.
The company hired to install Arizona’s cameras, Redflex, is under financial pressure, because it invested $16 million upfront in the equipment. But it says it is persevering. “Redflex is in this for the long haul,” it said.
While Americans have largely tolerated cameras that catch motorists running red lights, the introduction of speed cameras has been met by the kind of public fury usually reserved for overpaid Wall Street bankers. It is thought that about 300 communities in the US have experimented with the devices, but Arizona was the first state to commit to the technology under the then governor Janet Napolitano, now the US Secretary of Homeland Security.
The new governor — Jan Brewer, a Republican — is openly critical, and agrees that the scheme was introduced more to raise money than to prevent accidents. As in Britain, however, there are many officials in Arizona who argue that the critics protest too much.
If the cameras raise money for the Government, say supporters, that is not the only purpose. Last week a 25-year-old man was snapped as he tore through a 65mph zone at 78mph — while standing on the driver’s seat, with his head poking through the sunroof. He has since been arrested.
• Icelanders used pots and pans to make a deafening clatter during protests against the mishandling of the financial crisis last January
• More than 400,000 Britons marched on Trafalgar Square in 2002 to protest against anti-foxhunting laws. Crowds queued for more than six hours to follow the official route
• Resistance in the Philippines against the Marcos regime in 1986 popularised the term “people power”. Rigged elections prompted non-violent protests in what became known as the Yellow Revolution because of the yellow ribbons worn by protesters
• The Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, fought against the introduction of a tax on the spirit. Resistance measures included robbing the post, stopping court proceedings and assaulting tax collectors