Thursday, March 18, 2010

New State Ban on Red Light Camera's Could Doom Santa Fe Program

Today The State Transportation Commission banned red light camera's and speed vans on state or federal roads. All communities with red-light cameras installed on state or federal roads have 60 days to remove them. A policy which was approved during a meeting held in Clovis outlined the ban. According to a story at Santa Fe Police Department’s Capt. Anthony Robbins argued in favor of red-light cameras, citing statistics showing a more than 50 percent drop in red-light and speed violations at lights where cameras are installed. He also said the severity of crashes at those intersections is changing because of the cameras.

I am unsure of where those statistics came from because Santa Fe has not yet installed the camera's that were approved over 1 year ago. In February of this year the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that installation of the red light camera's were on hold pending state approval. All four cameras that were to be installed in Santa Fe were to be on four Cerrillos Road intersections — at St. Francis Drive, St. Michael's Drive, Richards Avenue and Zafarano Drive. Cerrillos Road is a State Highway and under the new ban all four of these intersections will be unable to have red light camera's installed. The speed van currently in use by the city of Santa Fe would also be banned from use on state or federal roads. This could doom Santa Fe's red light camera program . Redflex, the company the city is contracting with to install the camera's and run the program provides the equipment in exchange for a lease fee and a cut of the fines and administration fees to run the program. They require high traffic areas for the camera's in order to ensure the volume needed to provide adequate profit margins for the program.

Readers of my blog know I am not in favor of the types of red light programs being used by municipalities and the company redflex. 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 impoundment. 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 and redflex 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. I have always said that if red light camera's were legitimized by state law and offenders could go before a judge and plead their case I would be more amenable to the program. Although I still think the jury is out on whether red light camera's actually work to reduce accidents and save lives or if their only good for raising revenue. As of February the city of Santa Fe has issued $170,000 worth of speeding tickets from the speed van. A big chunk of that money goes to redflex and the rest is split between the city and the state. What has yet to be determined is whether redflex will be interested in putting camera's on smaller city roads as both Cerrillos Road and St Francis Drive are state roadways. I applaud the decision of the State Transportation Commission.

For lots more on Red Light Camera's click Here.


1 comment:

M. said...

This is a very clear explanation of a whole bunch of things I didn't know. Thank you very much.