Traffic citations growing by 4,500 a year
Hobbs Assistant City Attorney Efren Cortez knew that higher traffic fines were needed after a speeder laughed in Cortez’s face in municipal court, saying he’d rather pay his traffic fine than go through a defensive driving course at New Mexico Junior College to have the ticket expunged.
The effects of that attitude by drivers can be seen in the number of traffic citation the city is seeing as Cortez pointed an increase of 4,500 traffic tickets given in 2015 over 2014 and the trend is continuing this year.
“In 2014, our Hobbs Municipal Court saw a total of 14,780 cases filed, (and) 2,420 of those were actually speeding citations,” he said. In 2015, we saw that number increase to a total of 19,278 total cases filed, 3,603 of those were speeding citations.”
“It’s $39 if you run a red light. For some people that’s just the cost of doing business. It doesn’t make an impression on them.” — Chris McCall, Hobbs police chief, on increasing traffic fines
Cortez, along with Hobbs Police Department Captain Michael Walker began work on changing traffic laws in the city in October of 2013 with the backing of the Hobbs City Commission. On Monday night, the commission unanimously approved the publication of a new ordinance that will up the traffic fines across the board in a move Cortez called “just” and Commissioner Jonathan Sena said he thinks is “merciful and just.”
The changes will be brought before the commission for approval on Aug. 1 and would go into effect on Sept. 5 if approved.
Some of the changes to fines include speeding fines being raised from the $15-150 range to a $40-$180 range, a fine more closely aligned to other communities — Commissioner Marshall Newman cited Lubbock where the fine is $200 for speeding — “That hurts,” he said.
No license fines will go from $25 to $80 and running a stop sign or red signal from $10 to $45. A $29 assessment fee would also be added to these fines. However, if the new ordinance is approved, the commission will have the power to change the fines as they see fit. It would also establish a traffic bureau to help with the number of traffic offenses seen by the Hobbs Municipal Court and increase the time that violators are given to address their tickets from five days to 30 days.
“This isn’t the highest in the State of New Mexico,” said Sena, an early proponent of the changes as well as several other city traffic programs including the “Slow Your Roll” campaign. “By looking at the information provided to us, there’s so many other communities that are doing this. By talking about laws that should be merciful and just. In giving people 30 days more. People can actually go in. They won’t have to tell their boss, ‘Hey, I’m going to be out for half the day.’ They can go in (the municipal court) during lunch break or something, and pay of some at the window or show their insurance, maybe they didn’t have it when they got pulled over. They can take care of that in 20 minutes maybe.”
According to Hobbs Municipal Court Administrator Shannon Carter fines could be put on payment plans or worked off as community service if the violator can not afford to pay.
“The fine is meant to be a deterrent,” said Hobbs Police Chief Chris McCall. “Our criminal justice system is a punitive system, and you look at this list, and you run a red light. It’s $39 if you run a red light. For some people that’s just the cost of doing business. It doesn’t make an impression on them. My sincere hope is we would get to a point that we collected no fines off these traffic penalties with voluntary compliance from the entire community. That would be the ultimate goal.”
The next Hobbs City Commission Meeting is scheduled for July 18 at 6 p.m. in the commission chambers at Hobbs City Hall.
Charlie Benton can be reached at 575-391-5434 or by email.