Category Archives: safety

Is it safe to go to Mexico?

With all the negative press surrounding Mexican narco-violence lately , the following theme should sound familiar to azbikelaw readers:

Though the U.S. government says its records aren’t comprehensive, the leading cause of unnatural death in Mexico for an American tourist — by far — is car accident, according to State Department data…

Is It Safe to Go to Mexico? Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2009

I could do without the “accident” — the preferred term is “collision” or “crash”.

Photo Enforcement in the mainstream media

The WSJ (news side) did a story on photo enforcement. Since there’s so much activity on this issue in Arizona, we figured prominently in the story.

Overall, it strikes me that it was fairly typical of such stories. The point of view of photo enforcement opponents, “it’s all about the money” is well represented, and I think that’s fair. But what troubles me, though, is the lightweight treatment of the safety aspects and the science involved. Consider:

Studies are mixed on whether traffic cameras improve safety. Some research indicates they may increase rear-end collisions as drivers slam on their brakes when they see posted camera notices…

A study of crash causes released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last July found about 5% of crashes were due to traveling too fast and 2% were from running red lights. Driving off the side of the road, falling asleep at the wheel and crossing the center lines were the biggest causes identified.

Get the Feeling You’re Being Watched? If You’re Driving, You Just Might Be. William M. Bulkeley, the Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2009, p. A1

The truth, or rather, the problem with that analysis is it ignores the relative severity of rear-end vs. an intersection collision. The 5% figure is interesting and misleading at the same time. It refers to the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey.

The article also talks about use of automated license plate reading technology being used for other (not traffic enforcement) uses, such as catching those with outstanding fines or whatnot.

Meanwhile, just wandering around the internet, I noticed the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), a wonderful book by the way, Tom Vanderbuilt, blogged on the same article as well, with similar criticisms “to compare them so casually is typical of myopic mainstream-media reporting when it comes to traffic safety”. He also puts traffic dangerousness into terms of it being an externality of driving, just one of many, of course.

Comparative Traffic Safety

This reference, now a couple of years old, does a good job of exposing the poor job U.S. is doing traffic-safety wise:

Lives on the Line: US Highway Safety Targets and Achievements are Fatally Low

By the way, that site,, as its name implies puts a spotlight on police and driving. The Officer Down Memorial Page keeps detailed stats on the cause of death of all law enformcemnt officers killed in the line of duty — e.g. in 2008 the of the 134 officers killed in the US; about 70 were in traffic collisions (3 of those were as the result of pursuit, about 5 were intentionally “rammed”); by comparison, 40 were killed by gunfire (two of those accidentally), and only 1 by stabbing.

Why I support “Bikes safe at stop signs”

See Stop sign compliance for links to the present laws, and Bicycle stop sign changes proposed for the pending legislation.

There are a couple of serious objections to allowing bicyclists to legally roll through stop signs that should be considered:

1) Same Roads – Same Rights – Same Rules (SRSRSR). I find this argument specious at best and disastrous at worst. SRSRSR may be useful as a teaching aid, slogan, or PR position but simply does not, and can not, work as a legal position. In Bicycles are not motor vehicles and why it matters I explain why as a practical matter cyclists would be banned outright from most roads were we to actually be subjected to the same rules. There are a myriad of other, lesser, examples; pacelineing would be illegal, bikes would be required to have lights (24×7, not just at night), horns, and so forth, cyclists would have to be licensed, and thus children wouldn’t be allowed to ride bicycles (16″ or more wheelsize), bikes would require insurance and registration stickers (BLT, bicycle license tax, anyone?), there would be no riding on sidewalks statewide, nor would parking be allowed on sidewalks (I guess I would definitely have to get a kickstand).  §28-735, the “3-foot passing law” would have to be repealed.

Beyond the issue at hand, as a matter of consistency, advocacy of any sort of bicycle lane would have to be disavowed — “Same Roads”, remember?

2) Safety; my own feeling is simply that the cyclist’s self-preservation instinct is stronger than any law, and as such changing the law won’t cause any (additional) problems.

Beyond just feeling, my review of traffic engineering literature indicates that the problem at stop signs isn’t one of strict compliance, but rather one of driver-error, see Stop sign compliance for references.

Also, we have an actual example in the state of Idaho. In reply to queries about the law’s impact on safety Mark McNeese said “No impact; nothing changed; current behavior was just legalized”. His full comments are below. Boise and its metro area have populations of around 200,000 and 600,000 respectively. By comparison, Tucson is about 500,000 / 1,000,000, and Phoenix is even larger. Still, it’s hard to claim that Idaho’s almost 3 decades of real-world experience is irrelevant. Continue reading Why I support “Bikes safe at stop signs”

DPS says photo radar major factor in drastic fatality reduction

Arizona DPS in a press release Dec 29, 2008 cited photo radar as a major factor in a 59% decrease in fatal crashes for the 80 days of “enhanced” photo-radar enforcement, compared to the same period in prior years on Phoenix metro highways.

A modest decrease in miles driven is also a factor.

The statewide fatality decrease in 2007 (over 2006) was dramatic, and it remains to be seen how this will compare to full AZ 2008 stats.

Photo enforcement remains controversial but report by ASU Civil Engineering professor Simon Washington  Evaluation of the City of Scottsdale Loop 101 Photo Enforcement Demonstration Program confirms not only safety benefits but also time and financial savings due to reduction in crashes.

On the other hand, critics claim that the cameras have no effect on safety; the most strident claim that cameras cause an overall increase in crashes — but so far at least that is all they are, claims.

the enabling legislation for the so-called enhanced photo (DPS / state-run) is 48th 2nd regular session HB 2210 “budget reconciliation; criminal justice” (which is very long and has lots of stuff in it; it was also apparently a striker because the original name was “regents; scholarships;”), see  §41-1722, [some updates 3/1/2013 — much has changed, in particular it looks like that statue is now missing due to repeal, see all of chapter 41; also see process-servers-and-personal-jurisdiction] which among other things gets rid of points, and changes (see changes to  process service requirement.

General rules for commencing a civil traffic violation “by filing” (photo tickets are filed as opposed to issued) are specified in 28-1592 and 28-1593; say that complaints must be filed within 60 days and served within 90 days from filing. There are exceptions if the incident involves a traffic collision and investigation. Do these rules apply to photo tickets? dunno, as far as i can see there are no alternatives. And how this jives with Rule 4(d), i dunno either, see below.

Here are a bunch of “emergency changes” to the Arizona rules of civil procedure, effective Sept 2008. These are mostly regarding the complaint and service provisions of phot0-radar violations.

There was an article in June 2009 issue of Perfectify magazine written by Arizona Attorney Monica Lindstrom Smile for the Camera (p.44). It gives some general background regarding service requirements

Under Arizona rules of civil procedure, Rule 4(d), a complaint must be served within 120 days. for purposes of a photo radar ticket, the “complaint” is the ticket and it is typically considered filed on the day of the violation (the day you were speeding or ran the red light). In other words, the government has 120 days to serve you with the ticket. If it fails to do so, then the ticket is dismissed — unless the government asks for more time. Beware some cities are using “alternative service” which can be by publication in a newspaper or posting it on your door. I recommend keeping up with the news in your area and doing periodic internet searchs to see if your city/town/county is employing this sneaky method.

I am not aware of any such “alternative service”.??

Strangely/inexplicably, she seems to not understand that there are no points associated with photo radar (speed cameras).


Thomas says no to criminal speeding

In a surprise move (a surprise to DPS, that is. Is this more politics than law?), Maricopa county attorney Andrew Thomas announced (Feb 24,2009) that his office will not charge motorists flashed at 20+ over with “criminal” speeding. Cities within Maricopa county, as well as everywhere outside of Maricopa are not affected by Thomas’ decision.It wasn’t clear to me if the DPS photo citations go to the city, or to the county by default (I’m guessing they go to the county?).

His whole explanation is silly; e.g. his claim that it is unconstitutional since “you can’t cross-examine a camera”. This is absurd, how does he support any other machine-based evidence? breathalyzers (or blood analysis machines), photographs, surveillance videos, wiretaps and so forth. they can’t be cross examined either.

In Arizona, criminal speeding is defined by §28-701.02 “Excessive Speeds, Classification”. The reference to 20 over isn’t completely accurate on the highway, it refers to over 85mph — i.e. 20 over if the posted limit is 65mph, but 30 over if it is 55. The general reasoning, which is said to be an “informal” opinion is that criminal requires a higher burden of proof than photo-radar alone can provide and as such they will decline any such cases. The DPS has indicated it will request a formal opinion on the matter from the Attorney General.

Attorney General says yes to criminal speeding

That didn’t take long. In a Feb 27th memorandum, Attorney General Terry Goddard knocked Thomas’ claims; “Mr. Thomas’ anecdotal explanations of potential abuses of the criminal process based on the use of photo radar do not provide a reasoned basis for an assertion that photo radar cannot be used to establish a criminal violation.”

“Arizona courts have similarly authorized evidence derived from other types of devices, such as video-tape recorders or cameras… there is no reason to believe the same rule would not be followed by Arizona appellate courts were the issue to be raised here.”

“Mr. Thomas states that prosecutions based on photo radar evidence would violate the Confrontation Clauses of the United States and Arizona Constitutions because a defendant would have ‘no opportunity to question or cross-examine a camera.’ Mr. Thomas ignores, however, the fact that non-testimonial evidence such as a surveillance tape or an Intoxilyzer test result is routinely admitted in criminal cases without implicating the Confrontation Clause. Under Mr. Thomas’ interpretation of the Confrontation Clause, the evidentiary use of surveillance tapes or Intoxilyzer test results, as well as any other mechanical measuring device, would be improper because there is no opportunity to question or cross-examine the tape or the measuring device. Furthermore, the United States and Arizona Confrontation Clauses, by their express terms, only afford a criminal defendant the opportunity to confront the witnesses against him… A defendant’s right to confrontation does not extend to physical evidence”

Thomas Responds

(do we have a dyfunctional system going here in AZ or what?) From KTAR story dated Feb 27th:

“[Goddard’s] main goal seems to be avoiding being pinned down on controversial issues,” Thomas said. “Quite frankly, that’s one of the reasons why this amazes me. You never hear him weighing in on the controversial, tough issues that I take on”

Then he switches to… drum roll please… immigration enforcement!

“Since the first year I took office, he and DPS have refused to fully enforce the immigration laws of this state,”… “DPS has released one van load after another of illegal immigrants stopped on our highways.”

Miles driven off sharply in 2008

First high gas prices, then the economic slowdown has meant a sharp decrease in miles driven in Arizona. “Arizona drivers put 295 million fewer miles on their cars in October compared with October last year, a 6 percent decline and the 11th consecutive month traffic has dropped”

It will be interesting to see what impact this has on crash rates for 2008. Arizona posted a huge drop in fatalities for 2007, the per-mile stats still have not been posted for 2007; though Arizona is perennially high compared to US as a whole. Continue reading Miles driven off sharply in 2008

Is walking risky?

Risk by mode share; walking is commonly considered “risky” but what does that mean? After all, all forms of transportation have some risk. When compared on a per-trip basis — as opposed to, say, a per-mile rate — we find that pedestrian fatalities are only slightly over-represented, both for Arizona and for US averages. For example, the Arizona estimated mode-share for all trips is 9.3%, whereas pedestrian fatalities were 12% of all traffic fatalities for the period 2003 to 2006.

Some authors have argued that walking (and cycling. See, e.g. Pucher) is wildly risky.

ADOT’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan Study, Working Paper 1, Exhibit 2-3.