Arizona Photo-Enforcement Loophole: Out-of-State Residents Face No Consequences for Unpaid Freeway-Camera Tickets

In following up our earlier post today about 3,600 speed-camera cases on the docket for this morning in a single justice court, we stumbled upon the answer to a good question.

Many readers have asked: What happens if you get a speed-camera ticket on the freeway in Arizona, but you live out of state?

We had been barking up the wrong camera housing, it turns out, by asking a Redflex official whether process servers from other states deliver the tickets outside of Arizona. It doesn't matter if those tickets are served -- failing to pay does not result in any action taken with the Motor Vehicles Department, says MVD spokeswoman Cydney DeModica. In the unlikely event that you are served personally with the ticket, there is a consequence to failing to pay: You won't be able to register a vehicle in Arizona until you pay the fine and other fees.

But if you never plan on registering a car in Arizona -- then who cares?

Frankly, we should have figured this out much earlier.

When the state Department of Public Safety set up the freeway speed-camera system last year, then-Governor Janet Napolitano knew a lot of people wouldn't love it. To mitigate some of the potential political fallout, she agreed that tickets generated from the DPS system would not add penalty points to a driver's license.

By a quirk in the law, the same MVD system that covers penalty points also determines when a driver's license should be suspended. As many of you know, if you don't pay a speeding ticket issued by a real, live cop, your driver's license will get yanked until you cough up some cash. You'll also get a suspension letter if you got a speed-camera ticket from a city like Scottsdale, ignored it, got served by a process server and continued to ignore it.

That doesn't happen with a DPS-issued speed-camera ticket. However, a separate law allows the state to put something like a lien on your vehicle registration if you have any sort of unpaid court sanctions, DeModica explains.

There is no reciprocal agreement between states on the vehicle registration lien. And without MVD action, police in other states won't see any problem with your driver's license if you get pulled over there.

To sum up: Out-of-state residents face no real consequences for failing to pay their DPS speed-camera tickets.

As for the Arizona residents among the 1,500 or so people who blew off their court date today, even after being served: They will have to pay up, eventually, if they want to renew their vehicle registration here. And they'll have a slightly higher amount to pay, says Terry Stewart, justice courts administrator.

In addition to the intial fine, (typically about $180), other fees tacked on will include:

* $26 for the process server fee. * $20 time-payment fee * $30 default fee

Clearly, it would behoove state residents to pay DPS tickets promptly -- if served -- and avoid the other fees (though they don't have to worry about a driver's license suspension).

As for everyone else -- it's your call.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.