The fact there were a thousand fewer DWI arrests filed in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court last year shows how statistics can sometimes be misleading. With bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues closed throughout much of the COVID-19 pandemic and less overall traffic, police filed 1,044 fewer DWI cases in the metro court than in 2019.
But at the same time, Bernalillo County had 82 more DWI-related crashes last year than in 2019, up from 483 to 565 in 2020. And the percentage of crashes that are DWI-related so far this year – 35.6% – is up from 29.8% in 2020 and 16.3% in 2019.
New Mexico banned drive-up window liquor sales in 1998. We require first-time offenders convicted of drunken driving to get an ignition interlock on their vehicle for a year. And it is promising that in the last legislative session our lawmakers banned the sale of miniature bottles of liquor for off-site consumption effective July 1. Those drink-on-the-go little bottles have stirred up big troubles for too long, not to mention littering roadways.
Drunken driving crashes are on the upswing, legalized recreational marijuana is on the horizon, and there doesn’t seem to be a plan to address the kind of heartbreaking losses like the recent deaths of two young children at the Big I.
Just a couple weeks ago, police say Danielle Ortiz urged her friend, Alexis Martinez, to drive her and their children home after the women had been drinking. Ortiz told police Martinez initially protested, saying she “loves her children” and didn’t want to drive drunk with them in the car. But Ortiz told police she was able to convince Martinez to take the wheel and the 23-year-old mothers allegedly decided to risk it – with their four children inside the car.
Martinez’s 7-year-old daughter, Amariah Moya, and Ortiz’s 2-month-old boy were killed when the car crashed into a concrete barrier just north of the Big I and went airborne. Ortiz’s 3-year-old sitting on the car’s floor suffered internal bleeding and Martinez’s 2-year-old suffered a broken clavicle. Martinez was also critically injured.
Unfortunately this is just the latest in tragic DWI deaths. A UNM study conducted for the New Mexico Department of Transportation says there were 152 alcohol-related fatalities in the state in 2018. That number climbed to 177 in 2019, and dropped to 142 in 2020 as the pandemic kept many drinking establishments closed.
That Bernalillo County DWI-related crashes increased during the pandemic suggests a lot of New Mexicans believe the scourge that has injured and killed too many New Mexicans can’t happen to them. Joseph Moya, the father of Amariah Moya, would tell them they’re wrong. He hopes his daughter’s death will make others think twice if they are anywhere on the spectrum from tispy to buzzed to wasted.
We need to admit New Mexico has a problem, and we need to address it. Our lawmakers and the governor need to get guardrails up on alcohol- and marijuana-impaired driving, and as individuals we need to make it a rule to never drive while impaired or let impaired friends get behind the wheel. Because when it comes to its dangers, the families of the 110 victims killed in drunken driving crashes last year in Bernalillo County or the 104 killed in 2019 will tell you we really are all in this together.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.