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Albuquerque rolled out a new automated system for ticketing speeders that officials say is geared toward changing driver behavior as the city confronts a rising toll of traffic deaths.
The initiative will eventually involve placing up to 10 speed cameras at hotspots around the city to issue $100 citations or, as an alternative, require community service. The citations will be mailed and will not be reflected in driving records.
Mayor Tim Keller said the main goal is changing hearts and minds.
“Our goal here is behavior change. We’re not going to gain any points or profit for this program for citing people,” he said. “That’s not what it’s about. It is about behavior change.”
Keller said the citations will cover the cost of the program and any leftover money will go toward Vision Zero projects. If the program is used to its full capability, that could mean up to $100,000 annually for the traffic safety initiative.
During a Wednesday news conference, officials distanced themselves from comparisons to the controversial red light camera program scrapped by the city years ago. Keller said they tailored the initiative to avoid the pitfalls of that program by allowing community service, changing the review and appeal process, and selecting a reputable vendor.
Bottom line, Keller said, is something needed to be done.
“Unfortunately, you just have to look at our pedestrian fatality rates, and the fact that New Mexico and Albuquerque are at the wrong end of every statistic,” he said. “We have to honor that by taking action.”
With that, the mayor said he was putting Albuquerque drivers “on notice.”
He said the first three cameras are set up on stretches of Montgomery and Gibson, and will begin giving warnings April 25. The citations will start May 25.
The city signed a one-year contract with the company NovoaGlobal for 10 speed cameras, and Keller said they will utilize all devices at different spots around the city over time.
“It’s not going to be a secret,” he said, “but we’re also not just going to advertise where we’re putting them right away.”
Keller stressed that going a few miles over the speed limit will not get you a citation, noting that the program is targeting excessive speeding that leads to crashes and, often, fatalities.
The Albuquerque Police Department had been surveilling such streets as Gibson and Montgomery for months leading up to the initiative, finding “hundreds” of drivers speeding over 100 mph.
Lt. Nick Wheeler with APD’s Traffic Unit said there is no shortage of anecdotes.
Wheeler said he stopped a woman hours earlier doing 92 mph on the freeway and she told him she “wasn’t paying attention” to her speed. He said one camera caught someone speeding 122 mph down Gibson at 10:30 a.m.
Wheeler said the cameras will work as a “force multiplier” to surveil hotpsots and allow officers to do traffic enforcement elsewhere as speeding problem areas move around, a problem cited often by the department.
However, he said that if the cameras capture the same vehicles repeatedly speeding over 100 mph, officers will target that stretch to catch those drivers in the act for criminal cases.
“The guys and gals that are traveling upwards of 100 miles an hour on the city streets need to start getting arrested or cited into court so they can face the consequences on the criminal side,” he said.
Wheeler said the cameras are pretty tough. They are made with bulletproof glass and steel, powered by batteries, solar panels or through a power line. He said the machines can read through tinted license plate covers and even spray paint, in the case of vandalism.
Wheeler said those who are cited will be given a $100 civil citation or, in the alternative, will serve 4 hours of community service in a 90-day period. People can contest citations with the City Clerk’s Office through e-hearings or in person.
He said the department just wants people to slow down.
“One of the hardest things for myself and my guys to do is to go tell someone’s family that they died as a result of someone else’s bad driving, and a lot of our crashes are (the) results of speed. It’s extremely frustrating,” Wheeler said.
Standing behind him, the faces of Julie Gonzales and Rosa Rivera were streaked with tears. The mother and aunt of Erika Chavez know the pain all too well. The 33-year-old mother of three was killed in September 2020 when a man crashed into her at 120 mph on the West Side.
Rivera, becoming choked up, said Chavez’s 3-year-old daughter was in the car and watched her mother take her last breath. Valerie Hermanson, the new Vision Zero coordinator, tried to keep her composure, tears rolling down her face, as Rivera spoke.
“It’s been a year and seven months (since) we lost our beautiful Erika Chavez. And every single day, it’s been a heart-stopping, agonizing pain that we have felt from the day that this happened. And it will be a part of our everyday life,” Rivera said. “We ask you to please watch your speed and please work with us in saving your family members’ lives.”