PHOENIX — A House panel voted to make the new statewide photo radar system go away.
On a 6-4 margin the Appropriations Committee approved legislation which makes the use of any type of photo enforcement system on a state road illegal after Sept. 30, 2010.
That covers not just the 36 fixed and 42 mobile cameras operated by the state Department of Public Safety but any cameras now operated by cities and counties on state roads. That includes not just highways but even two-lane stretches that go through communities.
Local governments could still have photo radar — but only on the streets they control.
The bill now goes to the full House.
Rep. Sam Crump, R-Anthem, said he actually wants to get rid of the cameras as soon as possible. But he noted that the contract signed by DPS with Redflex Traffic Systems allows the company to demand reimbursement for its installation costs if the contract, which took effect late last September, is cancelled within the first two years.
Letting the contract self-destruct, Crump said, makes more financial sense.
“Especially in this economic climate, nobody wants to be writing a check from the state back to the company for early termination of contract,’’ he said.
But HB 2106 does impose some new restrictions and conditions on the operation of the system until it disappears.
One spells out that citations cannot be issued unless a motorist is clocked going at least 11 miles per hour over the posted limit. That is the current DPS policy but not set in statute.
Potentially more significant, it would shut down the video cameras that now monitor and record traffic on a round-the-clock basis.
Lawmakers only learned earlier this year that each photo radar site takes not only still photos of speeders but also provides “streaming video’’ which is kept by DPS for 90 days. That raised questions of privacy and who might have access to the videos.
The vote came over the objections of the Arizona Highway Patrol Association.
which lobbies on behalf of DPS officers and civilian employees. Organization President Jimmy Chavez said photo radar is a useful law enforcement tool for safety.
But Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, disputed that contention.
He said speed, by itself, is not a primary cause of accidents. What does cause mishaps, he said, is when people suddenly change speed — such as when they suddenly see a sign warning of a photo radar camera or see the flash of the camera itself.
DPS itself is officially neutral on the legislation. But DPS Lt. James Warriner said that lawmakers need to realize that more than highway safety is involved: Photo enforcement frees up officers from doing routine patrols to catch speeders, particularly in the Phoenix metro area where most of the cameras are currently located.
“Our drug seizures are up in the metropolitan Valley, human smuggling seizures are up,’’ Warriner said.
And Warriner said DPS believes the cameras reduce collisions. That, in turn, means the officers are spending less time investigating accidents and more time getting drunk drivers off the road.
The idea of keeping the cameras got an endorsement from Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, who spoke about his experiences driving on the freeway system in the Valley.
“Your freeways scare the crap out of me,’’ he said. “They’re very dangerous to me,’’ Heinz continued, calling the Loop 101 highway “a death trap.’’
Photo radar, he said, makes a difference.
“I feel safer,’’ Heinz said, particularly with DPS saying it has more than 90 positions it cannot fill because of the budget crunch.