Slow down: Speed vans aren’t the solution

March 22, 2019

Watch out! Soon, the vehicle by the road, there to catch speeders on candid camera, could be returning to Santa Fe.

It makes us safer, say supporters. If you’re not speeding, you don’t have anything to worry about. Vehicle crashes are up since the last time the speed vans with cameras were used from 2009-13, so putting them back along roadsides is the right thing to do. And so on.

We have not been big fans of the Santa Fe Traffic Operations Program, or STOP, for a number of reasons.

Using speed cameras to photograph drivers whizzing by generally results in a process that does not allow the accused to present a defense. Radar catches a truck or car speeding, the license plate is photographed and, eventually, a ticket shows up in the mail. It doesn’t matter if the teenager took the car that day or if the camera grabbed the wrong license plate. The photograph declares that the accused is guilty.

Under the program now being proposed, speeding would result in a $100 ticket. Forty percent of the ticket would go to the out-of-state Verra Mobility Corp., the company vying to win a contract to operate the speed vans. Catching speeders is profitable — so much so that the Redflex company, which formerly operated Santa Fe’s speed van program, was caught bribing people in order to win business.

After it was discontinued, supporters still wanted to bring it back. In 2017, under Mayor Javier Gonzales, the City Council voted to restart the program on a 5-4 vote. The then-mayor voted no, although Mayor Alan Webber seems open to the idea as a way to slow down speeders. On Tuesday, the city Public Safety Committee advanced the proposal. The City Council will take it up next.

The Santa Fe Police Department wants the help patrolling streets. The department believes speed vans will encourage drivers to slow down, allowing police officers to respond to more serious complaints rather than being stuck on traffic patrol. They also point to increased crash numbers.

Trouble is, we don’t know that the increase in traffic crashes has anything to do with halting speed vans, despite supporters’ claims that the two are related. According to the 2017 resolution the City Council passed, “in 2014, 2,569 crashes were reported, in 2015, 2,704 crashes were reported and in 2016, 3,004 crashes were reported, showing a linear uptick in vehicle crashes since the STOP Program was terminated in 2013.”

But an “uptick” doesn’t mean one thing is causing the other. That’s a fundamental of research. The increased number of crashes could be a result of more cars on the road, more drivers texting or talking on their phones, drivers under the influence or any number of factors that have nothing to do with the disappearance of speed vans.

Rather than outsourcing policing to out-of-state companies more interested in profit than Santa Fe, we would prefer officers with radar guns, more signs warning drivers to slow down and even a city examination of whether speeds on some streets are too low. Sometimes drivers speed because the set limit doesn’t work for the flow of traffic.

As we said back in 2017, “Cracking down on speeding is a worthy goal, but hiring private, out-of-state contractors to photograph drivers from parked vans is not the best way to make streets safer.” We still believe that.

Citizens who love — or hate — the idea of cameras recording them as they drive should weigh in now. Otherwise, the speed vans will be back, ready to photograph drivers and hand out tickets. Besides, who needs speed vans to slow down drivers? As our readers have pointed out, that’s why we have potholes.