The legislature has passed Senate Bill 519 which forces local cities which use Red Light Camera's to turn over most of the revenue to the state. I applaud this bill and urge the Governor to Sign it into law. My biggest problem with red light camera's is that cities tend to use them not as deterrents to red light running but as revenue generation tools. This bill removes most of that incentive and forces mayors and city councilors to judge the use of red light camera's on their effectiveness and not their ability to generate revenue. The final change needed in a future piece of legislation would be to force cities who have red light cameras to have protests to violations heard by a real judge, whether it be a municipal or magistrate judge. If this final change was made I could then support red light camera's.
For those who are not aware. Cameras have been in use in Albuquerque for several years, and in Las Cruces for about a month. The City of Santa Fe is placing cameras at four Cerrillos Road intersections within months also. 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 do New Mexico cities use red light camera's 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 impoundments. The city saves on storage fees by impounding your car in your own driveway by booting the vehicle.
Because it is a civil action your only recourse if you want to dispute a ticket is to appeal the ticket to a hearing officer hired by the city to hear the appeals. The hearing officer only judges whether or not you ran the light not extenuating circumstances like a judge would. So lets say a car is skidding into your rear end at a light you have already stopped at or are slowing to a stop. Your only choice is to step on the gas and continue through the intersection or get rear ended. You step on the gas and avoid the accident but the camera snaps your picture and you get a ticket. The hearing officer will not take the circumstances into account only whether or not the photo adequately shows evidence that you did or did not run the light.
A judge can take all factors into consideration and make a ruling. Now cities do not want these tickets going to a judge because judges tend to take plea agreements and dismiss tickets more often than a hearing officer would. Thereby reducing dramatically the revenue from red light tickets. And of course because of state law which says that an officer must witness the infraction any judge who gets a red light camera case would be obligated to throw the case out. This brings us back to the State Legislature. What is needed now is a state statute either legitimizing red light cameras so the cases can be heard in a real court, or a statute eliminating them all together.
Finally the ball is still up in the air on whether or not Red Light Camera's prevent accidents or cause them. I was hoping Albuquerque would do an honest study on this factor but I have not seen it yet. You can find studies that show both results so the whole thing appears inconclusive.
Here are three studies which shows that accidents increase at intersections with red light camera's due to motorists making abrupt stops in order to avoid the citation.
Maryland county's red light cameras net $2.85 million, increase accidents
Georgia: Accidents Increased with Red Light Cameras
Now I really believe the Red Light camera's will prove to be a bad fit for Santa Fe and locals will pressure city officials to do away with them in the next couple of years. It will be interesting to see.