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T Q&A

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A Tucson High School and University of Arizona graduate, Richard Fimbres put in a 26-year career with the Pima County Sheriff's Department before accepting an appointment in 2003 to serve as director of Gov. Janet Napolitano's Office of Highway Safety. He was appointed to the Pima Community College Board of Governors in 1997 and has been elected and re-elected without opposition since. Fimbres also served in various offices with the League of United Latin American Citizens, including national vice president for the far west region. He frets that we'll hold it against him that he is a Dallas Cowboys fan.

What good is there in the drive to Phoenix in 2005?

I see first-hand our traffic, our problems. I am in the congestion. I see what truckers face and what we face from truckers. I see how people drive, see bad habits. I saw a woman the other day reading a book. She was only going 55 mph. I see people with a cell phone in one hand, eating a hamburger, driving with their elbow.

Safety first.

They think it's OK, but what if they have a blow out? What if the car in front of them or next to them goes out of control?

Your mantra is buckle up.

Click it or ticket. You have a 45 percent better chance of survival in a crash if you are buckled up. That's better odds than you get at the casino.

What explains our reluctance to have a primary seatbelt law--mandatory seatbelt usage and the ability for cops to make stops and ticket for that alone? Is it frontier freedom?

That's part of it. Opponents preach personal responsibility, that we don't need to legislate it. We are gaining. My first year, we had 74 percent seatbelt usage. Last year, we had 86 percent and this year, 95.3 percent. But that's just daylight driving. We need the primary law to go with education. ... With the law, we could get around $12.8 million for education and enforcement. We could get about five times what we now get in federal highway safety money.

Haven't you bloodied your head enough on that brick wall at the Legislature?

Not yet. We have some minority legislators who think the primary seatbelt law will increase racial profiling. But Texas, New Mexico, California (and) Hawaii--all states with significant minority populations--have it, and there is no study to show that it has increased or affected racial profiling in those states. And we have minority organizations on board. LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) support it. They see it as a safety issue and not a profiling issue. The other issue that has been raised is that it would adversely affect Native American communities. But the biggest Native American nation, the Najavo Nation, has a primary seatbelt law. The Tohono O'odham Nation is getting ready to implement one.

You get pumped talking about motoring safety.

Every day is a challenge. ... We all mourn, as we should, when a plane goes down, and 250 or 300 lives are lost. But we don't mourn or react appropriately when we have a person die in a car accident in Arizona every 7.3 hours. That's three a day.

You also battled some bad bills, right?

Yeah. Some wanted to increase the speed limit to 80 mph. Another bill would have allowed whatever speed 85 percent of the traffic was going.

Your office sent down a grant that Tucson police are using to enforce jaywalking and bicycle laws. It's been so tough that the Weekly has a "Hassled by The Man" contest. Are you The Man?

We provide the grant, and they do with it what they will. But this isn't the '70s anymore. It's not like when we were kids, and we weren't very smart back then, either. You don't want your kid or someone else's kid hit.

Speaking of the 1970s, you were at the tail end of Tucson High's football glory days, with two state championship teams in the early 1970s. What was it like going against Mike Dawson (an All-American who later played for the Chiefs) in practice?

One time, they were working a sweep, and I was playing defensive end. He hit me so hard, he knocked me into the stands.

You're still connected to Tucson High.

Yes. One son graduated from there, and another is there now. And our house is headquarters for all their friends. We also try to help with the "T" club with fundraising and scholarships for all student athletes--including for those in intramural sports. We do other things for kids with LULAC and the Knights of Columbus with scholarships and educational trips.

What do you do to chill?

Family. And old movies on video.

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