Freeway speed cameras to be turned off this week

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX -- Dozens of photo-enforcement cameras on freeways throughout the state are coming down this week.

A total of 76 cameras will cease operation on Thursday.

The photo-enforcement program, which was meant to catch speeders on Arizona's freeways, has been controversial from the beginning. The cameras first went up nearly two years ago.

While the cameras have done a good job at snapping speeders, drivers have been ignoring the tickets.

According to the Department of Public Safety, the cameras led to more than 700,000 tickets in the first year of operation. Many of those people, however, never paid the fines.

Some say that's because the tickets were mailed, making them easy to ignore.

Any driver who ignored a photo-enforcement ticket was supposed to have been served. One problem was that process servers were inundated and simply couldn't get to everybody. If a person was not served, his or her ticket became invalid after three months.

The speeding tickets should have generated about $90 million in the first year of the program. About one-third of that was actually collected.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who has always been critical of the program, decided earlier this year not to renew Arizona's contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, the company that runs the cameras.

Opponents of the cameras were thrilled with that decision. They called the cameras a distraction that actually caused wrecks. They also said the cameras were a violation of people's constitutional rights.

Supporters of the photo-enforcement program said the camera saved lives.

"We actually had almost 22 percent fewer fatality collisions in Metro Phoenix," said DPS Lt. Steve Harrison in October 2009. "That equates to 12 actual fatal collisions that didn't happen, which statistically equates to about 13 lives that were saved."

A full audit on the program's effectiveness will not be complete until this fall.

Tickets issued based on photos snapped before Friday, July 16 -- right up until midnight -- will still have to be paid. Those drivers will still be served.

Attorney Christopher Corso said his office has been flooded with calls from people who have questions about outstanding tickets.

"If you have a ticket and you're served with that ticket, you're going to have to deal with it," Corso said.

While the cameras on the freeways are going dark, many cities will continue to run speed and red-light cameras on their streets.

Earlier this year, there was a grass-roots effort to get a measure on the ballot to ban all photo-enforcement cameras in Arizona, including those on local streets. Not enough signatures were collected to get that initiative on the November ballot.