Arizona Photo Enforcement Eases Slightly; "Criminal" Speed Violations on Freeways Now Deemed "Civil"


The fastest drivers caught by freeway speed cameras in Arizona will be punished less, thanks to a policy change that halts the mailing of criminal speeding tickets.

The state Department of Public Safety, which operates the highway speed-camera program, says the change -- made without fanfare earlier this month -- won't likely result in fewer photo-related arrests. About 10 motorists snapped by the cameras have been arrested in the last six month -- and none strictly for speeding, DPS says.

Folks caught doing stupid, reckless things by the cameras, like sticking their heads through sunroofs, can still be arrested.

But people committing criminal speed violations will now pay less in penalties and experience fewer hassles.


State law allows cops to issue criminal traffic tickets for speeds higher than 85 miles per hour, or less, in certain circumstances. The violation is considered a class 3 misdemeanor under Arizona law.

The DPS, which operates the state-run camera system on freeways and highways, mailed about 4,000 such tickets to motorists last year, (and about 600,000 plain, old civil speeding tickets).

The criminal-speed tickets typically merit a higher fine, but they also mean extra work for DPS staff. These days, with the state struggling with a budget crisis, fewer officers are available to do that work.

So on February 10, the DPS made a "business decision" to make every ticket civil, rather than criminal, says DPS Lieutenant Jeff King.

King explains that each criminal ticket had to be filed with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for prosecution, and each defendant had to be interviewed. Troopers had been contacting about six people a day, he says.

Now, the ticket will be deemed civil even if the recorded speed is in the "criminal" range.

Criminal speed penalties typically range from $235 (for up to 29 mph over the posted speed limit) to $460 (for 40 over) and more. Ticket-getters can't just mail in a fine -- they have to see a judge and make a plea. Often, they aren't allowed to take driving school, either.

All civil photo-enforcement violations on the freeway carry a flat fine of $181.50, so some leadfoots will be getting off much easier than in the past.

No matter what kind of ticket shows up in the mail, by now you should know what to do with it.


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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern