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Mother ticketed in Rio Rancho for letting daughter ride shotgun

By D'Val Westphal
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
          When Tammi Nidever moved to the City of Vision from Albuquerque last year, she didn't know it was against the law for her 10-year-old daughter to ride in the front seat of their Explorer.
        She soon found out.
        And she was given the choice of paying $138 or performing 40 hours of community service.
        Now, she wants to be sure others know about the "unique" law that's on Rio Rancho's books — and has been there for several years, according to John Francis, a spokesman for the city Department of Public Safety.
        Nidever says she was driving her daughter to school when a Rio Rancho officer pulled her over and asked her how old her daughter was. She said 10, and the officer then checked with her daughter, who backed her mom up.
        Then Tammi learned that in Rio Rancho, a city ordinance makes it illegal for a child under age 13 to ride in the front seat of a vehicle unless there is no back seat. And if the passenger seats are all taken up by kids, the oldest kid has to ride shotgun.
        "How would I know that?" Tammi asks. "I don't have an air bag, or I wouldn't put her in the front. I drive an Explorer, so I'm not worried about her safety. I had no idea, or I wouldn't have done it. They don't tell anybody, and then they give you a ticket for it."
        She was not given a warning. Instead, she found out that the base fine for having someone under 13 in the front seat is $138.
        A working mom, she opted to serve 40 hours of community service. The ticket was then stricken from her record.
        Still, she wonders how many others know about the stringent rule.
        And it is stringent.
        It's not the law in Albuquerque. In fact, the only age mentioned in state law when it comes to the front seat is that infants under 1 year old must sit in the back seat in a rear-facing car seat.
        It also says children under 7 or under 60 pounds must be in car seats or booster seats; children ages 7 to 12 who weigh at least 60 pounds and can sit with their back against the seat and their knees bent over the edge and can wear a seat belt across their hips and chest — not tummy and neck — can graduate from a booster seat to a seat belt. From age 13 on, only seat belts are required.
        Francis says Rio Rancho's law was enacted "because of the size and weight and height of a child under 13 — it's a safety factor."
        Nidever says her daughter is 5-foot-2.
        Francis can't tell how many of the citations the department gives out, because the violation is lumped in with all other seat-belt/child-safety-seat violations. But he says issuing them is "fairly common," especially during the "first few weeks of school." He says DPS officers have seen children as young as 4 or 5 years old riding up front.
        As for who gets cited and who gets a warning, he says it's the same as with any traffic stop — a lot is left up to the officer's discretion.
        Tammi says she did community service to avoid a fine and keep the violation off her driving record. She worked in the city's Municipal Court, filing citations. And she says that in the "hundreds" she handled, "I can't tell you how many tickets I saw for this — they were in every stack. They are pulling people over just for this."
        Assistant editorial page editor D'Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for West Siders on Tuesdays and the rest of the Metro area on Saturdays. Reach her at 823-3858 (phone), 823-3994 (fax), roadabqjournal.com (e-mail) or P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103. Check out previous columns at abqjournal.com/traffic.