“We don’t need any more laws”

Republican leadership continues their head-in-the-sand approach to lawmaking. On the heels of Phoenix’s texting ban, the house’s transportation chairman insists there is no role for legislation here:

Despite some bipartisan support for cellphone legislation (Rep. John Nelson, R-Glendale, is co-sponsoring the texting bill), Farley said that the House Transportation Committee chairman for a second year has refused to give the bills a hearing.

Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, “has the power to quash the desire of our constituents of Arizona if he so desires, and he’s chosen to do so,” Farley said. “It is outrageous for one guy to silence the voices of millions of Arizonans from hearing the bill.”

For Biggs, it’s more a matter of principle than partisan politics. He insists a more informed public, not more laws, is the answer.

Better education in driving schools and a broader public-awareness campaign, similar to the “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt campaign, could avert future tragedies like the Peoria accident, Biggs said.

“There are already a number of laws on the books dealing with dangerous (driving) behavior,” he said. “These laws are adequate. I don’t think we need any more laws.”

Texting-while-driving ban meets resistance, The Arizona Republic, Feb 28, 2008

Do we really not need any more laws? Prosecutors as a rule bring no charges against non-DUI drivers who kill and maim, regardless of their (mis)behavior. We appear to have a circular situation here. So either the prosecutors are lying, or we really do need more laws to address dangerous driving.

Critics who complain of enforceability are, I think, missing the point. The point being that if the specific behavior was illegal, it would create a presumption of negligence — this would, I WOULD HOPE, encourage prosecutors to bring criminal charges when an injury or death occurs caused by the illegal behavior. If this is not the case, then in any event we are still apparently short of legal ammunition and the legislators ought to get off their obstructionist asses and craft some legislation that has some teeth and meaningful impact on Arizona’s abysmally high traffic fatality rate. Tinkering with DUI laws, as I’ve said before cannot significantly improve the situation.

On the other hand, if it is speeders that need protecting, then lawmakers are all over the case. HB2603 would offer all sorts of goodies for speeders captured on photo-radar, including reducing or eliminating points and limiting citations. I have no idea why this should be a partisan thing but the Republicans are all for this sort of thing. The article “Lawmakers go light on speeders” says the bill is headed for the full house meaning it must have cleared We-don’t-need-any-more-laws Biggs’ committee. So Chairperson Biggs is relaxing his obstructionism for this cause.

Lawmakers go light on speeders
BY HOWARD FISCHER, CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
2008-02-28 22:34:00
Phoenix – State lawmakers are moving to give a break to speeders – at least those who don’t drive really fast and don’t do it often.

And they also could be undermining plans by Gov. Janet Napolitano to roll out photo radar cameras statewide.

Legislation approved Thursday by the House Transportation Committee would change the law to say that those who are ticketed for driving 11 mph over the posted limit would get just one point on their driving record rather than the three under current law.

That’s a big change as accumulating eight points in 12 months requires the driver to go to traffic survival school; more than 12 points means a three-month license suspension.

But the measure has an even better escape clause for those doing just 11 mph over the limit: They could end up with no points at all – and nothing in their record to hike their insurance premiums – because HB 2603 would allow the offending motorists to take defensive driving classes and wipe out the citation once every 12 months. Now that option is available only once every two years.

Both provisions would apply whether it’s a ticket is issued personally by a police officer or a photo radar citation that arrives in the mail.

But the measure takes a couple of specific swipes at the whole concept of photo radar.

One section essentially would give speeders captured by photo radar one free pass every year: A single violation within any 12-month period could not be reported to insurance companies, whether the person paid the fine or went to traffic school.

The legislation also would give some protection to motorists who speed past multiple photo radar cameras set up near each other on state roads: All violations within five miles and 20 minutes of each other would be reduced to a single traffic ticket.

And it also would forbid issuing photo radar tickets unless the violation were “witnessed by a law enforcement official.”

Rep. Luci Mason, R-Prescott, said that doesn’t mean actually having a police officer at the scene. But it would require that all photo radar photographs and citations actually be reviewed by a sworn peace officer – and not some clerk – before being mailed out.

The far-reaching measure comes amid increasing complaints by some lawmakers who contend photo radar is not a legitimate safety tool. Those concerns have been magnified by the plans by the governor to have the Department of Public Safety lease 170 fixed and mobile speed cameras to be deployed around the state.

“I welcome any opportunity to stick my finger in the lens of photo radar because I can’t stand it,” said Rep. Sam Crump, R- Anthem.

And Mason said she finds it “very disturbing with the machines controlling our lives.”

But Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said his colleagues are wrong. “While photo radar may be annoying, it has been proven by the studies … that it is incredibly effective at reducing accidents,” he said.

DPS Lt. Bob Ticer was particularly critical of the provisions easing the penalties on those driving just 11 miles over the speed limit.

He pointed out that margin applies not just to citations issued on freeways. And he said the math shows just how dangerous it is.

Ticer said normal reaction time is 1.5 seconds, which translates to 55 feet for someone driving 25 miles an hour in a residential area. At 35 mph, he said, that distance increases to 77 feet.

“That 22 feet is a large distance where a child could come out in between a vehicle, chasing a ball, riding a bicycle,” Ticer said.

Mason was particularly insistent on the provision which says multiple violations close in space and time should not be considered separate tickets. She said motorists could be trying to navigate through “difficult traffic,” not know that they had been clocked speeding by three separate cameras along the same stretch of highway “and lose their license in a day.”

The measure, which now goes to the full House, also came over the objections of Don Isaacson, a lobbyist for State Farm.

He said all insurers use an individual’s driving record – and the points accumulated – to decide whether to provide coverage to someone and, if so, how much to charge them. Isaacson said there are studies which show that the number of times people get a ticket for speeding is a good predictor of whether they are likely to get into an accident in the future.

David Childers, who lobbies for some other automobile insurance companies, said setting rates based on someone’s record of speeding violations makes sense.

“If you don’t, that means that bad drivers are going to be subsidized by the good drivers.”

This legislation is just part of the problem facing the governor’s plan to have photo radar on highways throughout the state.

She does not need legislative permission to have the cameras. But Napolitano needs a change in state law to have all of the revenues collected go to the state general fund, not just to pay the cost of leasing the equipment but also to generate $90 million in revenues this coming fiscal year she needs to balance her spending plan.

Under current law, the base proceeds from all citations, whether issued by police or photo radar, go to the city where issued or, if in unincorporated areas, to the county.

Napolitano has said the photo radar cameras are about safety and not the revenues. But the governor also said she sees nothing wrong with making speeders pay for various state programs she considers priorities.

“Look, you can either have a budget that protects speeders or you can have a budget that protects education, that allows us to keep adding DPS (Department of Public Safety) officers and CPS (Child Protective Services) case managers,” she said earlier this month.

“These are all choices that have to be made.”