Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 07, 2008

8-11 Traffic Cameras Promote Safer Driving

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What's up with Gov. Bill Richardson's "concerns" about traffic cameras? They promote safer driving. The governor is a huge advocate of getting drunks off the road. They both accomplish the same basic purpose.
Gov. Richardson says he doesn't like the "big-brother" aspect, the potential for excessive fines that allow a private company to profit from traffic citations or the use of the programs to balance city budgets at the expense of sound law enforcement and the principles of due process.
Let's look at each of these concerns. In George Orwell's 1984, the big-brother government electronically spied on all its citizens in every aspect of their daily lives. Traffic cameras "spy" on citizens only when they are operating a deadly weapon to assure they are doing it safely.
When mobile vans are used, an officer is clicking the shutter so it isn't electronic snooping. And under current New Mexico law, signs and rumble strips warn drivers they are about to get their picture taken.
A portion of each traffic fine goes to the company that provides the cameras. The governor doesn't complain about using private contractors in every department of government.
Sharing fines with them makes the program self supporting. If the fine is more than enough to meet costs, it may be excessive and constitute a hidden tax. But it could be considered a punitive action to deter further violations.
Using excessive fines to balance budgets does happen. The state of Arizona, after seeing the success of city traffic cameras in reducing accidents, decided to buy 100 traffic cameras to help balance its state budget.
Arizona makes absolutely no pretense of being interested in traffic safety. The violation does not go on drivers' records so there are no points against their license and no insurance consequences.
But there is a $165 fine. If you can afford the fine, you can speed all you want. Arizona lawmakers figure to make an easy $50 million a year, maybe much more.
Gov. Richardson also has concerns that traffic cameras are not sound law enforcement. But what is unsound about cameras freeing officers to work in other areas of law enforcement?
And how does this eliminate the principles of due process? Tickets still can be appealed. Drivers will lose their opportunity to make their case to the officer who pulls them over, but how many people manage to talk themselves out of a ticket?
So what other reasons can Gov. Richardson have for his concerns about traffic cameras? His state police drivers can still speed. Is it good politics to oppose traffic cameras? Are there more speeders among the voting populace than there are people who are concerned about speeders and red light runners?
Are the governor and lawmakers envious of this revenue source that the Legislature hasn't pre-approved for cities? Whatever it might be, the governor and Legislature came down hard on Albuquerque in the 2008 Legislature.
The Duke City is the only municipality to use traffic cameras, thus far. Lawmakers passed and the governor signed a bill imposing limitations on Albuquerque's program and confiscating part of its revenue. And the law was written to apply only to Albuquerque.
We all know Albuquerque's reputation in the rest of the state. We'd all like to take the big guy down a notch or two whenever possible. And then there is Mayor Martin Chavez, with whom city councilors, Albuquerque legislators and Gov. Richardson often clash. Were they punishing him?
The law they passed is stupid. It is punitive to Albuquerque and it is an invitation to other cities to do what Albuquerque was doing and get away with it.
It is time for a reassessment of traffic cameras. They prevent accidents by reducing speeds and red light violations. I would prefer they not be a fundraising project. The license and insurance consequences are enough.
But they are a proven means of making our streets and highways safer.
MON, 8-11-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home