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There were more than 5,000 car crashes during an 80-day period in 2007. Twenty-two people died in those crashes. There were 3,311 crashes during the same time period in 2008, and nine people died in those crashes.

Any loss of life is tragic. But these statistics from the Arizona Department of Public Safety show the effects of placing speed cameras (i.e. photo radar) on our state’s highways and freeways.

The statistics represent traffic accidents during the first 80 days of speed camera operation in metro Phoenix, from Sept. 26 to Dec. 16. The numbers may be lower because of less traffic on our streets since last year. But a conservative estimate shows that speed cameras reduced fatal accidents by 30 percent, and total accidents by 10 percent.

Now, the state Legislature may vote to remove the speed cameras, despite the public safety benefits.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted 5-2 last week to recommend approval of House Bill 2106, which would remove all speed cameras from state highways. According to an article in the Arizona Guardian, Rep. Sam Crump, who introduced the bill and serves on the committee, said the cameras were designed more as a revenue generator than as a safety measure.

In an article in The Arizona Republic, Rep. Andy Biggs, the committee chairman, said specifically that the cameras are a “speed tax” used to “fund social programs.”

I’m incredibly skeptical of these claims. First of all, there are public safety benefits, as the statistics listed above clearly show. The cameras save lives. The revenue raised is not simply a “speed tax.” It’s doubtful that they do more to raise revenue than save lives — but how would one quantify life, anyway?

Second, so what if the cameras accomplish their mission by raising revenue for the state? It really isn’t a bad thing.

In case you haven’t heard, Arizona is facing a budget crisis of more than $1.7 billion, or 16.2 percent of state spending. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls it the nation’s worst.

Given the Legislature’s dominant philosophy, raising taxes to balance the budget is unlikely. Instead, legislators seem ready to make ludicrous spending cuts to attempt to balance the budget — such as the radical education cuts that will further cripple our state.

At the same time, however, legislators seem primed to get rid of the potential revenue of life-saving speed cameras.

There certainly are problems with saying one thing and doing another.

It would be problematic to say that speed cameras save lives, but really only raise revenue. But that isn’t the case here: they do both.

So as I head west on Interstate 10 this week to pay exorbitant campus parking fees, I’ll be sure to smile for the camera as I put myself in for another $185 of my hard-earned financial aid. You should, too.

Reach Brett at

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