Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
It’s a sobering thought as families drive back home from the Thanksgiving holiday: Because of a high number of drunken and careless drivers, New Mexico drivers are, overall, some of the worst in the country.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics from 2014 show an uptick in drunken driving arrests in New Mexico, which helped earn the state the unflattering distinction of having the second-worst drivers in the country, according to a car-insurance comparison group.
New Mexico had ranked the 19th-worst drivers in 2013 and the 29th-worst the year before.
The rate of drunken driving “should be a cause for concern among New Mexico residents, as their biggest change came in that category,” Tyler Spraul, who directed the study for CarinsuranceComaprison.com, told USA Today.
The study compiled how states ranked based on fatalities per miles driven, speeding, drunken driving, careless driving, and other moving citations per capita.
New Mexico ranked fifth for the most careless driving cases and 10th for the most drunken driving arrests. The state was 17th in traffic fatalities, 12th for speeding and 16th for other citations.
Those rankings led the Land of Enchantment to tie South Carolina for second-worst drivers. Montana had the worst drivers for the second year in a row, according to the study.
“New Mexico is trending in the wrong way for safe driving, so drivers there need to be deliberate in improving their ranking on next year’s list,” the study says.
Additionally, New Mexico also has a high number of drivers without insurance. A review of 2012 claims data by Insurance Research Council, an independent nonprofit group, found that 21.6 percent of the state’s drivers don’t have insurance. The national average is 12.6 percent, according to the research council.
The percentage of drivers without insurance was not included in the worst-drivers study.
Albuquerque police officer Simon Drobik said drivers distracted with cellphones and other devices are a common find for patrol, DWI and traffic officers.
“At wrecks, you hear it more and more – ‘I wasn’t paying attention,’ ” he said. “We should solely focus on driving.”
And there’s no shortage of bizarre stories about what New Mexico drivers will do when caught driving badly, he said.
For example, last winter Drobik and another officer pulled over a suspected drunken driver in Northeast Albuquerque. When the officers approached the car, they found the vehicle empty. After some investigation, Drobik said they found that the driver had managed to climb into the trunk by sliding one of the back seats down.
“He said he was kidnapped, but we weren’t having any of it,” Drobik said. “The tricks that people try to pull to get out of tickets are unbelievable.”
The statewide data that caused New Mexico to be recognized for its bad drivers was reflected locally.
There were 35 traffic deaths in Bernalillo County in 2014, compared with 23 the year before, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving in New Mexico.
DWI arrests by the Albuquerque Police Department in 2014 ticked up slightly, to 2,225. The agency made 2,181 arrests in 2013. The number of traffic citations issued by APD went from 21,681 to 24,294, according to the department’s annual report.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, however, had a significant decrease in DWI arrests. The Sheriff’s Office made 668 arrests in 2014, down from 976 the year before, according to county statistics.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Traffic Safety Bureau couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday. Neither could MADD officials. The group previously said campaigns against drunken driving have helped deter “casual drunk drivers” from taking to the roads after drinking. But there are still “gross offenders” who are caught with blood alcohol concentrations two to three times the legal limit.