New Mexico law diverts ticket camera profit

| 6/9/2009

If a ticket camera catches you speeding or running a red light, no matter where you are in New Mexico, the fine will be the same.

Gov. Bill Richardson recently signed into law a bill that standardizes the use of red-light and speeding cameras. It takes effect June 21.

Previously SB519, the new law routes part of the proceeds from fines to the state. Local governments keep the rest.

While capping fines at $100, half of the proceeds will be used for a driving-while-intoxicated court and other judicial costs. Cities will use the rest for traffic safety programs and operating costs for the cameras.

Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe have authorized the use of ticket cameras.

A year ago, the New Mexico Legislature took the first step to rein in overeager ticketing practices via red light and speeding cameras. At the time, Albuquerque was the only community using the devices. Richardson signed into law a bill requiring the city to cap their red light fines at $75 and keep only enough revenue to operate their cameras.

Lawmakers and the governor were spurred to action after Albuquerque spent a two-year period mailing out $400 tickets to drivers caught running red lights and speeding at 20 intersections around town. The fines allowed the city to generate more than $5 million in profit during that time.

In the past year, Las Cruces has posted its own cameras and Santa Fe’s City Council has also taken steps to use the enforcement tool. As will be the case in Albuquerque, tickets in the two communities will be limited to $100.

Supporters tout the cameras as an effective tool in curbing dangerous driving.

Opponents, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, question the claim that cameras are solely intended to keep people safe. They refer to the $400 tickets that Albuquerque was doling out until the state stepped in.

Others question the effectiveness of such intersection cameras, arguing they have the potential to distract drivers and cause more fender-bender accidents. In fact, multiple studies have found that crashes actually increased in cities with red-light cameras.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Mexico in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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