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New Mexico

Legislation would impose harsher punishment for distracted drivers

Pablo Lopez rides a bicycle because he said driving in Las Cruces is extremely stressful.

“It’s a very frustrating experience,” Lopez said. “It’s because of negligence.”​

The cyclist told ABC-7 he has collided with vehicles on two occasions. Both times, he said the vehicle left the scene.

“You’ve just got to have your head on a swivel and try to make eye contact with the drivers at intersections,” Lopez said. “That’s becoming increasingly difficult when you see the top of somebody’s head because they’re staring down at their phone.”

If passed, House Bill 109 would create harsher punishments for motorists accused of careless driving: Increasing the jail time from 90 days to 1 year and the fine from $300 to $1,000.

In New Mexico, there are two separate charges: reckless driving and careless driving.

To prove vehicular homicide, the state must demonstrate reckless driving, which is a driver who is either drunk or has a “willful and wanton” disregard of public safety. The felony of vehicular homicide carries a minimum of three years in prison.

Careless driving is a lesser charge, applying to drivers who are “inattentive,” according to state law. It also applies to drivers who might speed and run a red light, said State Rep. Bill Rehm (R) from Albuquerque.

Rep. Rehm is one of the bill’s sponsors. The legislator is a retired police officer who investigated the speed of cars involved in wrecks during his time in law enforcement.

“When you look at the loss of a loved one and you see that the behavior of the person who took this life was egregious, but it doesn’t raise to the level of reckless driving, they feel that the death is not being properly taken into account,” said Rep. Rehm.

Lopez told ABC-7 that distracted driving legislation is often not enforced or taken seriously. He said he frequently sees drivers texting on the road.

“I hope (HB 109) doesn’t fall to deaf ears on the side of it actually getting enforced,” Lopez said. “I think if they enforce some of the laws now, a lot of people would probably pay attention.”

KVIA

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KVIA ABC-7

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