Arizona Photo Enforcement: How to Beat It Mailbag

The wicked flash of a photo enforcement unit sears to the bone, sending out a beam of emotion -- indignation, denial, anger, guilt -- as it lights up the picture they'll use to prosecute you.

Then, when the ticket comes, it's like junk mail that bites.

Nobody likes getting a photo enforcement citation. It costs more than a new iPod, and you might have to spend a day in the prison of one of the state's driver rehabilitation classes. No wonder our recent blog post about beating photo enforcement tickets was a popular one with readers.

Quite a few of you wrote in with questions on the comments section of that post, so we'll take a stab at answering them. No legal advice to be given here -- just the facts we've learned about the program, and some speculation about our options if the dread envelope arrives. (If you have additional info or think we're getting something wrong, please feel free to set us straight).

First of all, a shameless but necessary plug for the 2007 New Times article Gotcha!, which is more timely now than ever. If you want to know how the system works, read that article.

Here are your questions (in italics):

Dennis says:

Does a photo radar ticket, if paid, have points against your record?

Posted On: Wednesday, Dec. 17 2008 @ 9:39AM

If it's a municipal program, yes. It would count like a regular speeding ticket.

However, the program run by the Arizona Department of Public Safety does not add points. Arizona law says on the matter:

A court shall not transmit abstracts of records of these violations to the department of transportation.


Two questions related to rental cars and tickets:

Summer Wesson says:

I just received one of these notices in the mail myself. Here's the issue though... I am out of state and it was a rental car being driven by a friend of mine so it is a picture of him, not me. If the rental car company turned me in, does this still mean that they need to serve me for it to be valid?

Posted On: Friday, Dec. 19 2008 @ 1:29PM

Robert says:

I am kind of in the same boat that Summer is in. I was recently going through Phoenix and we were "flashed/radared" in a rental car driven by my girlfriend at the time due to me being ill. We are out of state though and are wondering what the process will be with that happening the way it did. Will the rental car company receive the ticket and then send it to us or does something else happen?

Posted On: Saturday, Dec. 20 2008 @ 3:31PM

A rental company firm's vehicles are registered to corporations, not individuals -- so no process servers come out if the ticket gets ignored. All the government can do is send a gentle notice to the corporation, asking it to ID the driver. If the corporation's workers trash the notice, nothing else happens.

In our research for the 2007 article, we examined records from Scottsdale's Loop 101 camera program and found that some rental car companies rat out their clients, while others don't. From the article:

Rental car companies made up the largest single class of corporate violators in the records. Enterprise identified more than 2,000 of its drivers to authorities. Hertz, on the other hand, managed to identify only seven drivers out of 4,787 who drew violation notices.

The thing to keep in mind that in all circumstances, the ticket must be properly served under Arizona court rules or it is not legally valid.

If you sign the waiver of service and mail it back, you validate the ticket. If you don't do that, some other service must occur.

Essentially, that means the ticket -- which contains a court summons -- must be hand-delivered to you or a resident of your home. The delivery is made by a process server who, though hired by the photo enforcement vending company, is an official agent of the court.

But as we've pointed out, process servers aren't always dispatched on every ticket, and even when they are sent out, they might not catch anyone at home. Which means you luck out.


RDE says:

Just got snapped driving a friend's car the other night. We're from out of state. If we ignore the ticket I doubt they will serve us, but I'm concerned she will get a point on her license, which would be a bummer. do the points show up immediately, or after the ticket is paid/challenged? what about for out of state?

Also, if she cites me as the driver and I ignore the ticket does the 120 rule still apply until they serve me? thanks a lot for the help, this thing totally caught me off guard.

Posted On: Sunday, Dec. 21 2008 @ 6:45PM

We've covered most of RDE's questions, except the one about when the points show up: The points are applied by the Motor Vehicles Division after you pay the ticket or are found guilty during a contest hearing.

By the way, if she names you as the driver, maybe you should rethink the "friend" bit.


AZ resident says:

I recently received a photo enforced notice for going 66mph in a 55mph zone. The thing is, this was in I-10 going from Tucson to Phoenix and the speed limit changes from 75 to 65 to 55 many times during the drive. Also, I was not the driver but it is my vehicle so I received the ticket. I'm not sure whether I should identify the driver or not. And Advice? And..How much do these tickets usually cost and if you get served how much extra does it add to your ticket?

Posted On: Tuesday, Dec. 30 2008 @ 2:06PM

Should you identify the driver? That's an interesting question fraught with ethical implications. The law says you don't have to, but the driver apparently committed a crime.

A responsible citizen might want to snitch on the driver no matter who it was -- son, mother, friend, co-worker -- just to make stand for truth, justice and the American way.

But let's face it -- only an asshole would do that.

As to the cost: The DPS speeding tickets cost $165 -- and again, with no points on the license. The cities' tickets cost varies, but is about $200, usually. A red light camera ticket is usually $250, plus mandatory Traffic Survival School. The process server fee is about $20.


cs says:

What happens if you return your citation notice (not properly served)stating you request a court date and then don't respond to the court date notice mailed to you?

Posted On: Monday, Jan. 5 2009 @ 8:48PM

In that case, you're screwed because returning the notice probably counted as proper service even if you didn't sign the waiver. You must respond to the court date at this point or your driver's license will be suspended.


This is so unfair! says:

I was in the passenger seat of my car with a male friend driving when we got flashed for 75 in a 65. I citation came in the mail several days later. I'm thinking I'll go to court and point out "I'm not driving." The judge should just toss this out, right?

Posted On: Thursday, Jan. 8 2009 @ 4:06PM

Yes, that's what should happen. If you can prove it's not you driving, the ticket will be dismissed.


Emmanuel Adebayor says:

My mom got a ticket in the mail. However, it isn't her, but its actually me. Should she return the form on the very last day saying it wasn't her and that it was me? Should she ignore it all together? Also, the the speed detection device is not listed on the complaint/ticket, wouldn't that be a grounds for dismissal if I had to take it to court? Also, the speed is not printed on either of the photos, would that also be grounds for dismissal?

Posted On: Friday, Jan. 9 2009 @ 6:05PM

She could certainly decide to ignore it and wait for the process server to come or not come. But the best option for your mom is to declare she's not the driver. Whether it would be "grounds for dismissal" as far as the ticket's failure to include the detection device or even the speed -- that's above our pay grade. If you can afford a lawyer, any defense is worth a shot.


CS says:

On January 8, DPS announced that they raised the speed threshold from 10 MPH to 11 MPH over the speed limit. On January 10, I got flashed while driving on 51. I received the ticket in the mail for going 66 in a 55, which is 11 MPH over. Is it worth fighting this in court? I thought about tossing the ticket as only half of my face is shown in the picture and the speed is only 1 MPH over, I have a clean driving record and I don't want anything to go on it.

Posted On: Friday, Jan. 16 2009 @ 1:04PM

Good luck. It may be worth fighting it if you've got more time than money, but odds are you'll lose. Half a face is likely plenty for the judge to ID you with. Now, you may have better luck on the appeal -- see the 2007 article for example of various technicalities that have worked for some people -- but that takes more time.


Li says:

Do all photo radar flash if they are taking photo for violations, I was driving through Arizona on 01/11-12/09 by 93,15,40,74 and passed 6 mobile radars on side of road and the posted one. some were hidden real good over hill crest. none flash, I may have been driving 5 over posted limits. one I passed I was doing lane change. how do they picked out during rush hour when most cars in lane is speeding

Posted On: Friday, Jan. 16 2009 @ 3:12PM

Five over? Grandma drivers don't need to read this blog. The machines only nab you starting at 11 mph over the posted speed limit.

DPS officials say they only authorize a ticket to be mailed if the photo makes it clear which car is speeding. That being said, it's usually pretty obvious. And during rush hour, don't forget, nobody is speeding because the freeway is a friggin' parking lot.


Claudia says:

Does anyone know where you can sign this petition going around regarding the photo enforcement cameras? I would like to sign it.

Posted On: Saturday, Jan. 17 2009 @ 9:10PM

We haven't seen one yet, but the campaign has more than a year to collect signatures. For more information on that petition, you may want to contact the activists at, who are helping lead the charge.


Cole says:

Okay - maybe I'm just stupid. But I don't understand this 120 day rule thing. Explain it to me like I'm 3 years old.

I was "flashed" on the 101 in Chandler driving north on 12/15/08. My court date is scheduled for Chandler on 1/21/08.

Bottom line, when does the 120 days end?? Is it 120 days from 12/15, 1/21, or some other imaginary day.

Please help!

Posted On: Monday, Jan. 19 2009 @ 9:27PM

The 120-day clock starts ticking when the court receives notice of the violation. Don't go by the court date on the ticket -- they'll extend it to give the process servers time to find you. Many local courts are listed on the Arizona Supreme Court's public info site -- if you get a ticket, you can track its progress on that site by looking up your name.


Dale says:

1. Is there a time limit in which they must SEND you a ticket before it is no longer valid?

2. Do process servers come only on certain days? Or certain times of the day? :)

Posted On: Friday, Jan. 23 2009 @ 3:45PM

1. The question has a fundamental flaw: The ticket is not valid until it is properly served, so there is not exactly a deadline in which they must "send" it. But in Arizona, a civil violation must be filed in court within 60 days of the alleged violation. Once it's filed in court, it has to be properly served within 120 days to be valid.

2. The process servers come when they think you will be home. We covered one case in which a server delivered a ticket at 10 a.m. on New Year's Day. They won't come at 2 a.m.


We know the questions on photo enforcement will keep coming, and we'll try to answer them when we can. In the meantime, be our guest and share your photo enforcement stories in our comments section.

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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.