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Farley proposes banning license plate covers, sprays

An Arizona lawmaker has proposed a statewide ban on covers or substances used to obstruct photo-enforcement systems from capturing license plate information.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who authored the bill, said a ban would help prevent lawbreakers from escaping the consequences of speeding or red-light running.

"We should not allow people who are breaking the law to conceal their identity," he said.

Current law allows officers to cite drivers who obstruct their plates from view, but HB 2013 would specifically prohibit the use of covers, films or substances designed to look normal but hide the plate during the flash from a photo enforcement system.

Mark Clark, a spokesman for Scottsdale Police Department, said license covers make enforcement difficult because officers who review the images cannot issue citations without driver and plate information.

But plate covers don't work every time, he said, and officers can stake out areas where repeat offenders, known as "frequent fliers," tend to drive.

"It's 50-50 whether they actually block the photo radar," Clark said.

Bill Moloney, Scottsdale's program manager for photo enforcement, said about 2,100, or 4 percent, of the roughly 54,000 photos captured by his department's cameras in 2010 couldn't result in citations due to plate obstruction or illegibility.

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"The strobes are so powerful that they tend to blast through, and you're reasonably able to discern characters on the license plate," Moloney said. "I would say save the money and control your right foot."

Joe Scott, public relations officer for Harrisburg, Pa.,-based PhantomPlate, disagrees.

"Our products have been tested by several police departments … and numerous TV stations, and the products work when they are tested," Scott said.

Consumers use covers and sprays to protect themselves from unfair invasions of privacy, he said, adding that the public tends to distrust reports from the police about their effectiveness.

"Every time the cops say the product doesn't work, our sales go through the roof," he said. "Why would they make a product illegal if it didn't work?"

Restricting covers and substances might result in a greater number of citations and tickets, but Farley said his bill wasn't motivated by a need to increase revenue.

"This isn't about a revenue issue," he said. "The cities and counties who are using this are seeing that it's not increasing their revenues as much as it is increasing safety on the roadways."

The real issue is preventing potential speeders and light runners from taking the risk in the first place, Farley said.

But Scott said bans only promote the private interests of companies that contract with cities to run photo radar systems.

"If people didn't run red lights, then the companies behind those cameras would be out of business," he said. "And they aren't in the business of going out of business."

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Channing Turner/Cronkite News Service

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, believes that holding drivers accountable to traffic laws will make Arizona’s roads safer.

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Facts about HB 2013

  • What it does: Expands a ban on anything obscuring the license plate of a motor vehicle
  • What it prohibits: covers, electromagnetic films, electronic devices, sprays and substances designed to foil photo enforcement systems.
  • What's the penalty: $30 citation on first offense, $100 citation for second offense within 12 months.