Originally Published: November 28, 2012 9:59 p.m.
Photo radar and red-light violation tickets aren't nearly as ubiquitous in Arizona as they used to be. Public outcry was probably the biggest reason that the state stopped its use of these devices. Nothing turns the public against a policy more than the perception that it is unfair.
Locally, the municipality of Prescott Valley is still involved in using photo radar to enforce speed limits and so the arguments continue. Do these gadgets assist in reducing accidents by slowing driver's speeds? Do they increase the dangers by causing drivers to hit their brakes when they realize they are entering one of these zones? Or are they revenue-enhancers for the city?
This writer is of the opinion that photo radar is inherently unjust. One of our most important rights, derived from our legal heritage of both Common Law and Constitutional Law, is the right to a vigorous defense. While driving in most jurisdictions is considered a privilege and not a right, the fact remains that if you are subject to a penalty (a loss of freedom and/or a monetary fine), then the right to a vigorous defense should apply.
This is not the case when photo radar is in use. Here's why: There are sometimes valid reasons for exceeding the speed limit. One of those reasons is to avoid a collision. If a citizen is driving along at the speed limit and sees part of a steel belted tire or some other road hazard in the lane ahead, that driver might want to hit the brakes and change lanes. If there are vehicles close behind and next to his or her car, this might not be practical. This driver might have the time and distance to speed up and safely change lanes.
If this driver is then pulled over by a police officer, he or she can explain to the officer the reason for speeding. The officer can then believe the driver's excuse based on evidence or can write the driver a citation. (During my years as a police officer, it didn't occur often, but there were a few occasions when I didn't write a ticket after speaking with the driver). If the driver thinks that the ticket is unjust, he or she can go to traffic court and fight the ticket. The smart driver will write down the reason for speeding immediately and attach it to the ticket so that it can be presented before the court.
Using the same set of facts as above, is the driver going to remember the reason he or she was speeding when opening the mail and finding the citation and photograph 10 days or two weeks later? Hardly. Without some notable incident - like being stopped by an officer or a near collision - most people's memories won't kick in when the citation arrives in the mail. The driver is thus deprived of the best, vigorous and justifiable defense. I know because I have the traffic school receipt to prove it.
Now a bit of personal housecleaning. It has nothing to do with photo radar. A few weeks back, I wrote a column about ethics, which contained an anecdote about me accepting a lead role in a play. A copy of the column was sent to my three sisters. My much older sister, Debby (okay, she's 18 months older than I. All right, alright, Deb is 17 months and 11 days older), also had a part in the same play. She told me that in mentioning this story, I myself wasn't being totally ethical because I left out, she inferred, what Paul Harvey would have called, "the rest of the story." So here it is:
In 1963, the Kentwood Players in the Westchester area of Los Angeles, put on their Christmas play, "The Silver Thread." I won the part of the hero, Cuebert (not the name I would have chosen for a hero). The opening night of any play was put on for the Kentwood Players, which consisted of all of the actors, actresses, directors and stage crew members that produced plays year round at the Westchester Playhouse.
The opening scene was in a mine in which a group of underground trolls are plotting to kidnap the princess. As that scene ends, offstage, I yell my first line, "Never, while I have a tongue to stand on or a foot to speak with." That, of course, was not supposed to be my first line or the line I had memorized. I had inadvertently interchanged the words tongue and foot. Now you all know why I am a retired police officer and not a much-beloved star of stage and screen.
Buz Williams is a retired Long Beach, Calif., police officer who has lived in Prescott since 2004.