Saturday, December 15, 2007
Red Light Camera Suspension Vetoed
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque's red light cameras won a reprieve early Friday.
Mayor Martin Chávez vetoed City Council legislation that would have suspended the program through at least mid-January.
Councilors could attempt a veto override as early as Monday, but getting the six votes needed for that looks like a long shot.
Chávez said a task force he created should review the traffic camera program before any decisions are made on its future.
"Driving is a privilege, not a right in the United States," Chávez said during a news conference in his office. "The best way to avoid (citations) is to not speed or run red lights."
The task force began delving into the statistical data on Friday, and the initial research suggests that failure-to-yield and other accidents are down overall at the four intersections that have had cameras the longest. Rear-end collisions, however, appeared to be up.
The task force is trying to determine whether the numbers are statistically significant. In some cases, the sample of data is pretty small, making it difficult to say whether there's enough information to draw broader conclusions about the cameras' effectiveness.
The task force's charge, as outlined by the mayor, includes examining:
Whether the camera technology is sound.
How to improve the administrative format for people who contest their citations.
How high the fines should be.
Where revenue from the program ought to go.
Whether the program has reduced accidents.
What steps to try next if the program is jettisoned altogether.
The task force includes representatives from the City Council, state Legislature and transportation agencies. It's supposed to present its findings and recommendations by Jan. 15.
The city has traffic cameras at 20 intersections. Citations are mailed to the owners of vehicles photographed speeding or running red lights.
The fines generally start at $100.
Opponents say they object to the "Big Brother" surveillance of their activities. They also take issue with the process for contesting a citation, which involves going before a city hearing officer rather than a regular judge.
City Council President Brad Winter said the program has been mismanaged and that its revenue is being used to balance the city budget.
"We're going to have the same problems" as long the cameras operate, he said Friday.
The legislation to suspend the program, sponsored by Winter, was originally passed 3-2. Four councilors were absent.
It would take six of the nine councilors to override the mayor's veto. That means supporters of the original legislation would need three votes from the four councilors who were absent.
But at least two of those councilors Ken Sanchez and Sally Mayer say they expect to oppose the override.
The initial data the task force reviewed was for the intersections of Juan Tabo and Lomas, Paseo del Norte and Coors, Eubank and Montgomery and San Mateo and Montgomery. City staff examined police reports for the two years before the cameras were installed and the two years after they were installed.