Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

1-27 Traffic cameras may be on way out


SANTA FE – Are traffic cameras headed your way? Albuquerque launched its cameras in 2006 to detect speeders and red light runners. The Legislature didn't like it.
There weren't enough votes to kill it but restrictions were placed on the program. Among them were provisions that the program could not produce any extra revenue for the city. Fines could only be enough to cover expenses. The rest went to the state. Fines were set at $75.
In the next few years, Rio Rancho, Las Cruces and Santa Fe began using traffic cameras. Law suits were filed in Albuquerque. The city council scaled its program back to just red light runners. Public pressure continued anyway so the council held an advisory vote. A majority of 53 percent wanted cameras to go away. The council accepted the voters' desire.
That affected only Albuquerque. But those two Albuquerque lawsuits now have reached the state Supreme Court. Its decision could affect the entire state. The state court of appeals narrowly decided in favor of the cameras but the Supremes could go the other way.
Claims made against the program allege that it is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, a moneymaker, creeping government and a violation of rights. Also under fire is the presumption that the owner of a vehice is the guilty driver.
Defendants in the suits counter that if the owner of the vehicle identifies who was driving then that person will be charged. The owners never seem to know. Photographs of vehicles' front seats are used in some places to identify the driver. This also identifies a front-seat passenger who is not a suspect but sometimes is an embarrassment to the driver.
As for the privacy argument, what right to privacy does a driver have who is speeding and/or running a red light on a public road? Vehicles are under surveillance but so are individuals in stores, public buildings, airports and on crowded streets.
The moneymaking argument has been addressed by the New Mexico Legislature but it still persists. Unfortunately it was given a very bad reputation by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano in $2008 when the recession was first hitting.
As a revenue raising measure, she talked the legislature into buying a fleet of speed vans to place around the state. The fine was $200 and insurance companies were not notified. If you could afford the fines, it didn't matter how often you were caught. No mention was made of safety.
But safety should be the reason for all traffic laws. Everyone knows no rights exist for drivers to do whatever they want. There must be rules. The problem comes with enforcement. No one likes to be caught. Please enforce the laws against everyone but me.
Unfortunately traffic cameras are a little too efficient. They sneak up on you. But remember how motorcycle cops hiding behind billboards are reviled? What is it that causes people not to like traffic laws being enforced?
It seems as though the biggest opponents of traffic cameras are the American Civil Liberties Union and same people who want law and order. Is it the electronic part of it that seems too big-brotherish?
The Albuquerque police have come up with a solution to losing cameras. It has taken police off the crime beat and put them at the intersections that no longer have cameras. They are watching not only for red light violators but for speeders and vehicles with altered license plates. Fines now run as high as $270.
Santa Fe has an even better solution which others may want to copy. The city has speed vans parked conspicuously in school zones, hospital zones and streets where violations frequently occur. Signs are placed a half block on either side of the van warning that it is a speed zone. The location of these zones is published in the paper every day and on a weekly basis. It is much more pleasant than speed bumps.


Post a Comment

<< Home