Pipe Down

Santa Fe ratchets up fines for loud cars

Drivers with vehicles that break Santa Fe’s noise laws will soon face stiffer penalties.

City ordinance requires that every vehicle have a muffler in good working order to prevent “excessive or unusual noise.” The ordinance also bans muffler bypasses, cutouts and similar devices or modifications.

But plenty of vehicles don’t fit the requirements under that law, according to downtown business owners, residents and just about anyone who has found themselves drowned out by the roar of another car on the city’s streets.

Santa Fe police say they are handing out more tickets for noisy vehicles these days than in years past but argue that the fine—just $25—is too small to goad drivers into compliance.

The City Council voted Wednesday night to jack up penalties to $100 for a first offense, $250 for second-timers and $500 after that, though drivers could get out of the fine by fixing their cars to get in compliance after that first offense.

The measure approved Wednesday also makes it illegal to sell or offer to install muffler modifications that increase the smoke, noise or fumes from a vehicle.

The higher fines take effect in 90 days.

But the new penalties, approved on a 7-2 vote, represent a compromise.

District 1 Councilor Signe Lindell backed raising the fine for a first offense to $250, arguing loud vehicles are disrupting the quality of life in the city. Other councilors raised concerns that the higher fines will mostly punish younger motorists, who have received the vast majority of tickets under the city’s recent crackdown.

“For many individuals in our community, $250 is a very high fine,” said District 4 Councilor Jamie Cassutt.

Moreover, the changes make muffler violations one of the most costly under the city’s traffic code, leaving untouched far lower fines for driving that endangers pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists. Blowing through a stop sign, barreling through a crosswalk or illegally veering across a bike lane will still only cost offenders $25.

The vote comes as state lawmakers are considering banning muffler modifications. House Bill 71, introduced by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, would impose a $50 penalty for modifying or altering a muffler. That, and Santa Fe’s new penalties, are still lower than the fines imposed by some New Mexico cities.

Still, local residents and business owners who have been calling for higher fines encouraged councilors to approve the compromise.

“Not only is this disrupting to our neighborhoods and communities, it also detracts from tourists’ experience,” Bridget Dixon, from the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, told the council.

In the end, councilors approved lower fines than Lindell had originally urged. Lindell said she didn’t think the new penalties would make much of an impact.

“I think a $100 fine is really not realistic to effect any change,” she said.

The vote also illustrated a divide between residents in a city with a deep car culture. District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera, who voted against the increased fines along with District 3 Councilor Lee Garcia, recounted growing up cruising around downtown.

“If you had a loud car, you wanted people to hear. People thought it was cool. And that was the way things were,” he told the council.

Rivera added: “Things are different now. I get it.”

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