Violence and mayhem on Albuquerque roads are spiraling out of control.
In the past few weeks, we have endured the spectacle of a gang of trucks spinning donuts on I-25 in the middle of the day, terrorizing motorists and snarling traffic; nightly drag races on highways and streets; a high-speed car chase throughout the city which forced citizen vehicles to the sides of the road and locked down parts of University of New Mexico Hospital; and most horrifyingly, the murder of a 4-year old girl on Tuesday when shots were fired at her family’s vehicle on I-40 in the middle of the afternoon.
These tragic episodes are the work of selfish and immoral individuals with little to no regard for the well being of others. They deserve to be apprehended, tried, and jailed, at the very least.
There is a culture of lawlessness on our city’s public roadways. Far too many of our citizens send text messages while driving, in violation of state law; run red lights; exceed posted speed limits; dangerously weave in and out of traffic; and otherwise engage in distracted, careless, and hazardous driving.
This climate of irresponsibility and impunity offers tacit encouragement to the kind of criminal behavior that our community sadly has become infamous for.
What is it going to take for residents of our city to come together to solve these problems? Today, the rate of violent crime in Albuquerque is twice the national average. Does another child need to die to prompt us to take action? As Police Chief Gordon Eden declared: “We need to rise up as a community and say enough is enough.”
City, county, and state authorities must cooperate to develop and implement policies to improve the safety of our roads. Fortunately, there are examples of national best practices to reduce aggressive driving that contain three elements: engineering, enforcement and education.
First, engineering: we must address problems in the driving environment that contribute to frustration and conflict, such as poorly coordinated traffic lights, bad signs, insufficiently long exit ramps, or difficult merging lanes.
In Albuquerque, an additional problem comes from the abandoned vehicles that dot the shoulders of interstate highways. Drivers are now allowed one week to remove their vehicles. They should be removed immediately. They are a hazard, and they make the city look like the set of “Mad Max.”
Second, enforcement. We need a better strategy, and more police officers, to enforce existing laws and to identify and punish repeat offenders.
Other cities have adopted innovative measures to detect and apprehend aggressive drivers. Milwaukee targets specific intersections with high crash incidents. The Washington State Patrol created an Aggressive Driver Apprehension Team. In St. Petersburg, officers sat in unmarked city vehicles and on city property – including road construction vehicles and bus benches – to observe aggressive drivers and radio to squad cars to take enforcement action.
Third, education. We must create a communication plan to raise awareness of the enforcement campaign, and educate new and future drivers. People need to see that lawless drivers are being held accountable.
In addition, law enforcement authorities themselves must set an example. We need to impose parameters on city police officers, sheriffs and state highway patrol officers driving marked vehicles, such as a ban on laptop, phone and text message use while driving (I have seen all of these activities while on the road myself); a requirement to observe speed limits, stop signs and stoplights; and authorization to turn on emergency beacons to navigate red lights only when responding to urgent calls (how many of us have seen police flash lights through an intersection and then pull in to 7-11?).
Finally, law enforcement authorities should observe a policy of abandoning the motorized pursuit of suspects in order to minimize collateral damage.
For the sake of our families and our community, we must work together to renew public trust and make this city safe.