Legal Reference

Photo Radar is all about revenue

If you ask me it sounds like it "is all about money"!

I wonder if people could use the name "none" when registering a car and say they are taking the 5th to avoid being nailed for future photo radar tickets.

Same for getting a drivers license. Use the name "none" and say you are taking the 5th in advance so they can't nail you for future photo radar tickets.

In both cases you argue say you are willing to pay the registration tax and drivers license tax but were taking the 5th on giving our your name!

Typically, the DPS uses driver's-license photos and vehicle registration to confirm the identity of motorists


Fewer paying speed-camera tickets

But DPS is on lookout for so-called frequent fliers, drivers who flout the system

by JJ Hensley - Sept. 8, 2009 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

Dave Vontesmar hates photo enforcement.

Vontesmar drives nearly 30 miles a day from his home in north Phoenix to his job at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and passes through the photo-enforcement gantlet on Interstate 17, Arizona 51 and Interstate 10.

But when state Department of Public Safety officers served 37 unpaid photo-enforcement tickets to Vontesmar recently, he wasn't fazed.

The photos all show the driver wearing a monkey mask.

"Not one of them there is a picture where you can identify the driver," Vontesmar said. "The ball's in their court. I sent back all these ones I got with a copy of my driver's license and said, 'It's not me. I'm not paying them.' "

The latest data from the DPS shows more motorists are disregarding the violation notices upon arrival in the mail.

When the system was just getting set up in October, 34 percent of drivers paid their tickets. By June, that statistic had dropped to 24 percent.

Program effects

DPS officials repeatedly point out that the success of the photo-enforcement program is not measured in revenue it generates - about $20 million for the state through the end of July - or the number of notices of violation issued.

"Our whole goal is not to issue tickets, just to get people to drive the speed limit," Lt. Jeff King said.

King instead prefers to focus on the program's positive effects on Arizona's highways, particularly in the Valley where fatalities, a factor that closely correlates with speed in wrecks, have dropped by 10 to 20 percent since the same time last year. His anecdotal evidence also points to drivers slowing down. [Hmmm it's not about revenue but he is pretty quick to cite the $20 million in revenue the photo radar has raised but he can't cite anything but anecdotal evidence on how photo radar is making the streets safer]

"The whole purpose behind it is voluntary compliance, and (the cameras) work really good," King said.

DPS statistics support the notion that the program is slowing some drivers down, too. Photo-enforcement cameras activated about 78,000 fewer times in July than in December, though King notes other factors such as the economy could have contributed to fewer drivers being on the road.

King said there are plenty of people who willfully disregard the violations that arrive in the mail, generated by the 78 fixed and mobile units around the state.

DPS officers target such drivers, dubbed frequent fliers, who have 15 or more active violations. King said that number could fluctuate from 100 to 600 motorists.

Drivers have 30 days to respond to a notice of violation after it arrives in the mail. Motorists can either pay the fine, challenge the ticket or inform the DPS that the recipient is not the driver and return the paperwork with a copy of their driver's license. Drivers who challenge tickets could end up in Justice Court.

Those who ignore the notice may be served with a hand-delivered ticket.

A case in point

Vontesmar, a flight attendant, chose to inform the DPS that he was not driving when confronted with the 37 violations at his job three weeks ago. DPS officials estimate the car registered in Vontesmar's name was caught by cameras more than 90 times, but time had lapsed on the majority of violations by the time officers tracked Vontesmar down.

Vontesmar is confident that he won't have to pay the fines, an amount that could exceed $6,500.

"It's obviously a revenue grab," he said of the program. "They're required by law to ID the driver of the vehicle. If they can't identify the driver or the vehicle by the picture, what are they doing to identify the driver?"

Typically, the DPS uses driver's-license photos and vehicle registration to confirm the identity of motorists, but there is a special unit assigned to go after frequent fliers.

In this case, officers sat outside Vontesmar's home and watched him drive to work. "We watched him four different times put the monkey mask on and put the giraffe-style mask on," Officer Dave Porter said. "Based on surveillance, we were positive that Vontesmar was the driver."

Porter said that it would be up to justices of the peace to determine what to do with Vontesmar's tickets, but the officer said there is enough evidence to reissue the tickets in Vontesmar's name, despite his claims that he was not the driver.

Some frequent speeders cover their faces, use post-office boxes or fictitious addresses to beat the system, said Officer Jeff Hawkins, who is working 50 such cases.

"They generally do it under the pretext that they're not going to be caught," he said. "These are what you probably consider as people who don't really respect the law at all."


Arizona photo-enforcement critic's cases raise issues with system

by JJ Hensley - Nov. 13, 2009 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

For photo-enforcement critics, Dave Vontesmar became something of a hero after he was accused of speeding down Valley freeways with a monkey mask strapped to his head.

But as Vontesmar's many alleged violations have entered the court system, his cases have demonstrated some issues related to the volume of violations that few predicted when the statewide photo-enforcement program hit Arizona: overwhelmed courts, violations that aren't served or are dismissed and hearings that are set many months after the citation arrives in the mail.

Vontesmar, 49, has 46 total photo-enforcement cases in Maricopa County, and of those:

Five were dismissed because the notices of violation weren't served to Vontesmar within the 120 days allotted by law.

Thirteen have insufficient data for court employees to determine where they are in the system, largely because the Justice Court system has been overwhelmed with the volume of citations, which have increased caseload by 60 percent since the system launched.

Ten of the cases have had a $250 fine imposed because Vontesmar failed to appear in court.

Nine of the cases have motions to set aside filed by Vontesmar's attorney, Michael Kielsky.

Nine of the cases have a hearing set for Dec. 2, where Kielsky said he will file a similar motion, as he's also done for the cases with a default judgment.

"I think it's scandalous that (DPS is) so cavalier about it: 'If we made a mistake, just take it up with the judge,' " Kielsky said. "There are some due-process and confrontation-rights issues that may or may not come up if and when we get to a court hearing."

Critics of the statewide photo-enforcement system have made many of the same arguments since the Department of Public Safety started rolling out the program in September 2008.

DPS officials say the system, despite its vocal detractors, has brought about a change in Valley driving habits that should be evident to anyone who spends much time on area freeways.

Vontesmar said he's not a dangerous driver and points out that the tickets he's accused of accruing weren't for excessive speeds. His issue is with a program that he views as a cash grab. Through the end of October, photo-enforcement has generated nearly $40 million for the state's photo-enforcement fund and about $4.5 million for Redflex, the photo-enforcement provider, while issuing nearly 575,000 notices of violation - an average of more than 1,400 per day.

"Once again, I state that I am not picking a fight with DPS or any other bona fide law-enforcement agency in the state of Arizona. Photo Enforcement has nothing to do with protecting the citizens of our community," Vontesmar wrote in an e-mail. "It has been an eye-opening experience. I am amazed at the lengths that the state will go through in an effort to preserve their cash-cow system."

DPS officials make the same claim about Vontesmar.

The flight attendant was served with 37 notices of violation in mid-August while he was at work. DPS officers claim that Vontesmar accrued more than 90 violations while wearing a monkey or giraffe mask so authorities couldn't match the person the cameras snapped with the photo on Vontesmar's driver's license.

Investigators decided Vontesmar was going to continue "playing games," said DPS Lt. Jeff King, so they conducted surveillance where they claim they saw him don the mask on four occasions as he traveled Valley freeways.

A photo-enforcement camera snapped a picture of Vontesmar's car with a masked driver on one of those occasions, King said.

"In the photograph of the violation, you can see the surveillance car," King said.

Vontesmar claims the drivers were other people, an assertion Kielsky is repeating in court filings.

"There's no evidence that my client is the individual in that picture," Kielsky said.

If those legal arguments prove fruitless and the court-imposed fines continue to pile up, Vontesmar is still in a unique situation.

Because photo-enforcement tickets don't add points to a driver's license, Vontesmar's license won't be suspended as a result of the court rulings. But a driver in that situation will still owe the court, and under the fines and restitution-enforcement program, a driver would have to pay the penalties before he'd be allowed to register the car in Arizona.

If the driver moves out of state and tries to register a vehicle somewhere else, the fines could still follow because of a compact that shares information between Arizona and 41 other states.

"We are a free society and you can move if you want to," King said. "But these are our tax dollars; that court is ours, this agency is ours . . . this is us, do we want our neighbors to act like that? Everybody has a right to do their thing, but I think it'd be much better if we kind of respect others, too."

Regardless of what comes of the many violations, a process that could take months or years, Vontesmar's car hasn't activated any DPS photo-enforcement cameras since Sept. 6.