Several members of Bike Santa Fe were on hand to hear Sergeant Christopher McCord of the Santa Fe Police give a report to the BTAC’s members regarding recorded incidents involving cyclists and pedestrians. It was a short but quite enlightening session though not for the reasons we initially expected.
Originally, many of us had hoped to finally hear, and thus publicize, the many incidents and close passes we riders hear of second or third hand but that never seem to appear in the media. Turns out there were few within the police files. Of the small number recorded through police reports the vast majority were classified as negligence-based accidents involving “under the influence” cyclists or pedestrians who were injured or killed while traveling in the blocks adjacent to the homeless shelter on Cerrillos Road. While any injuries and loss of life are tragic events, it is hard to argue with the Santa Fe Police’s conclusion that substance abusers, if indeed they all were, are difficult to protect when they, by default, are having to interact with relatively high speed, busy traffic. Especially so at night.
The BTAC Committee wondered how some key incidents that were known to them were not in this report. Sergeant McCord explained that as originally requested, he brought and reported on actual closed investigation reports of incidents – not the calls into dispatchers. Call logs – records of citizens calling in to complain or report some incident, may have mentioned “bicycle”, “walking”, “riding”, or “pedestrian” in the call but the dispatcher may not have assigned a code to the report that included any specifics relating to cycling, running or walking. He was then asked if it might be possible to generate a more in-depth report, specifically keying on terms such as endangerment, injuries, or property losses involving bicycles, pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists and runners.
Sergeant McCord agreed to request a review of any actual call logs on hand to see how those statistics aligned with the closed reports he had brought to the meeting. He will report back once the records staff at Santa Fe Police complete their research.
As the discussion with Sergeant McCord continued it illuminated several other areas of importance to bicyclists in Santa Fe. Of major concern was the seeming ineffectiveness of the 5-foot passing ordinance within City limits. As riders, we all know about this law but it feels as if no one else has a clue! Sergeant McCord explained there are two logical reasons for this:
First, for any officer to charge someone with endangering a cyclist, they need to witness the violation first hand. Otherwise there is only a ‘she said, he said’ argument and nothing to testify about by the officer once in court. Importantly though, Sergeant McCord did say the department was more than willing to accept and possibly prosecute any legally valid video evidence of an infraction submitted to them (more on this below).
Second, the City 5 foot passing ordinance carries a very minor charge resulting in a fine of less then $100. So in an officer’s mind, should they witness a ‘too close pass’ of a cyclist, they will choose not to charge the driver under the City of Santa Fe ordinance but rather under State of New Mexico laws. This is due to the fact that the State codes offer much more serious financial penalties, points off the operators license resulting in higher insurance rates, and the possibility of jail time should the event be serious enough to justify that.
In the police’s view they want to help the situation by making sure the driver in such an incident understands the seriousness of their violation. And a meaningless fine is merely mail-in office busywork, not a deterrent to future repeat behavior. Again, hard to argue with how they see their choices in this matter.
Both of which help to explain why so few vehicle operators seem to know about the actual statute since no one is ever charged under that specific violation.
So what did Bike Santa Fe learn from this meeting? Here are three key take aways that are critically important to local runners, riders and pedestrians:
1) Always insist when in contact with any police department that the call log and codes reflect the specifics of your mode of transportation whether on wheels or foot. At the very least this will help us statistically. And, as a follow up, make sure you speak with the officer doing the investigation. It seems that in some cases when a victim is hurt and taken for treatment they have never been asked to tell their side of the story. Please insist on speaking to the case officer as soon as possible!
2) Bike Santa Fe and others interested in pursuing safer streets for all road users must advocate for equalized and effective penalties so that all traffic laws become standardized and have similar deterrent value through all jurisdictions. If we can do this it will be much easier to have these laws enforced, which by itself will quickly lead to more recognition by road users once cited operators spread the word.
3) Bike Santa Fe encourages all road riders in particular, to acquire and use legally acceptable video recording devices. That is, one that dates and time stamps its recordings, while riding. While logically one would want this unit mounted rear facing in order to capture threatening vehicles as they approach, the only way to legally identify the vehicle in New Mexico would be by recording their license plate, which in our state is only rear mounted. Thus necessitating a front mounted video device if there is only a single unit.
While we continue to work toward safer road sharing please keep these points in mind and help us build the future we all want to enjoy!