Speeding now "pointless" in New Mexico

Motorists may be under the false impression that it's OK to speed in New Mexico after Gov. Gary Johnson signed a bill into law that eliminates points on driver's licenses for some speeding tickets as of May 15, 2002.

The provision was a late amendment to a bill that doubles fines for those caught speeding in either construction zones or designated "safe roadway" zones.

The point system still applies on all roads but those designated as rural roadways, which have to be at least two miles away from an incorporated city, town, or village, with the exception of Bernalillo County. Trucks weighing 12,000 pounds or more will also not be exempt. Drivers ticketed for speeding on nonexempt roads or operating a nonexempt vehicle will still get points on their licenses.

Opponents of the amendment say that the law will "allow the worst offenders to continue to speed," said Steven Flint, a former director of the state traffic safety bureau and currently a volunteer with the DWI Resource Center in Albuquerque.

Terry Schiavone, director of the state's transportation programs division, said he thinks the law may, in the long run, be a good thing.

"When the amendment was first introduced I argued against it," he says. "The original bill was great because it would help save lives by increasing penalties for speeding in dangerous areas. I was worried that the amendment would be seen as a message to drivers that it is OK to speed."

Schiavone says he looked into the existing speeding penalties and found that there was a loophole. Drivers had to be both exceeding posted speed limits by at least 26 miles per hour and driving at least 76 mph to get the eight points added to their licenses.

"If someone is driving 76 miles per hour on one of these roads, a police officer can charge them with reckless driving in addition to giving them a speeding ticket," says Schiavone. "That gets you eight points on your license, and you don't have to be going that fast if the officer judges you are going too fast for the road conditions."

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Opponents worry the message is speeding is OK.

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Flint says that eliminating the points will make it harder for drivers to reach the 12-point maximum that results in a license suspension. He worries that speeding drivers will end up causing fatalities before they are stopped from driving.

Designated safety zones Schiavone also says that while he is aware that speeding is the No. 1 cause of car crashes with injuries on rural roads, he sees a balance because he is allowed to designate areas with high accident rates as "safety zones."

"Those areas will have to be 'signed' and we will provide extra enforcement in those areas," he said. "The fines for speeding in those areas, just like construction areas, will be doubled. I think that will encourage drivers to slow down."

Schiavone, who expresses concern that next year may bring an effort to completely eliminate the point system, says he plans to work with the DMV over the next year evaluating the overall points system for other loopholes.

Calls to the governor's office were not immediately returned.

By Liz Strillacci insure.com

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