Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Red Light Camera's
One item that has come up in Santa Fe County recently is the use of Red Light Cameras at Santa Fe County intersections. The use of these cameras to issue official criminal traffic citations is illegal in the state of New Mexico. State Law requires citations to be given by a uniformed certified officer who must witness the infraction. The only exception is in the case of an accident when the officer can rely on evidence at the scene and witness statements to issue the citations. So how does Albuquerque use the Red Light cameras to issue citations? They do this through a civil action.
The citations issued are civil summons issued by the city. The only cause of action if you do not pay the citation is for the city to take civil action and boot your vehicle under civil forfeiture ordinances until you pay. If you do pay the citation then the only penalty is the cash you send to the city. No matter how many citations you get for running red lights by the cameras you will not receive points on your M.V.D. records. Your insurance companies will not know you even received a citation. The penalty is cash and or impoundment. Violators are fined $100 the first time, $250 plus a 30-day impound of the vehicle for the second time. For subsequent offenses, there is a $500 fine plus a 90-day impound. The city saves on storage fees by impounding your car in your own driveway by booting the vehicle.
The number of cameras in Albuquerque that will catch those running red lights has doubled in the last month and will increase five times in a year. Critics say that the city is expanding the program not to prevent red light accidents but rather because the cameras are huge moneymakers for the City. In February of 2006 a traffic camera at Coors and Paseo del Norte caught 1,353 motorists driving through the intersection after the light turned red. Assuming that all citations were first time violators the city raised $338,250 in one month at one location.
A real disturbing trend is the local media searching the records of who was cited and publicizing politicians, government workers, police officers and other notables who are caught running the lights. I am someone who really does not media bash or blame the media for all the worlds ills however, how many searches have been done for media workers who are caught by the camera's. If you make a mistake and are caught by the camera is public embarrassment for the select few who work for the government or whom are public figures an intended punishment of which only those individuals should be subjected? Granted everyone’s driving record is public record but its not as likely that you will ever see a public officials citation written by a regular officer published on the front page or on the ten o’clock news.
I really see a problem when traffic citations are used as a revenue source. Unlike the view of many cited motorists, there are no quotas. We do not raise the Sheriff's Office Revenue by issuing citations. The public would probrably not re-elect me nor should they if we had quotas. These promote abuse and bad citations issued by deputies who just need to pull over citizens in order to reach their quota. We do receive $1 (one dollar) for every citation that is plead or found guilty in court. Most are not, usually people go to driving school or get a deferred sentence and we do not get the dollar. Last year I believe we got about $10,000 from the thousands of citations we issued. This was out of a taxpayer provided budget of just under seven million dollars.
The bottom line is we give citations as educational tools, not to raise money. They final question I have is do we approve that the owner of the vehicle should pay the price no matter who is driving when the red light is run? Drivers are not usually identified so the car and the owner are cited not the actual driver. So what do you think? Do the problems of red light runners and the high amount of accidents they cause justify the use of the red light cameras? Feel free to comment on this post.