New Mexico on the Road to Reducing Drunk Driving

By Dewey-Kollen, Janet | Law & Order, September 2008 | Go to article overview

New Mexico on the Road to Reducing Drunk Driving


Dewey-Kollen, Janet, Law & Order


From 1990 to 2002, New Mexico ranked among the top five states in the nation for alcohol-related fatalities. Today, New Mexico is on the road to major reductions in the number of people who die in alcohol-involved crashes, a stunning reversal for this state that has long struggled to curb impaired driving and the tragic outcomes associated with these crashes.

Progress in reducing drunk driving crashes on a national level has been at a proverbial snail's pace. Nationally, in 2005 there were only 0.2% fewer fatalities where alcohol was involved and 1.2% fewer crash fatalities where the highest driver BAC was .08 g/dl or above (12,945 fatalities), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Given this limited national progress, one can better appreciate New Mexico's accomplishments in 2005: an 11% reduction in alcohol-related fatalities, 9% reduction in drunk driving fatalities, 20% reduction in alcohol-related injury crashes, and 17% decline in overall alcoholrelated crashes.

Reducing drunk driving has been a top priority in New Mexico for several years. In 2003, Governor Bill Richardson convened a meeting of his cabinet secretaries, appropriate department directors, advocates, victims and others involved in the effort to reduce drunk driving and charged them with developing a comprehensive plan to decrease drunk driving in New Mexico. The planning process lasted about four months and involved about 50 people.

The four core components of the resulting Comprehensive DWI Strategic Plan are law enforcement, treatment, judi- cial and prevention. To make sure the plan was put into effect, the group also urged the governor to appoint a DWI czar with the access and authority to take steps necessary to reverse New Mexico's long and tragic experience with DWI crashes.

Leadership

In New Mexico, Rachel O'Connor, the nation's first DWI czar, serves in a cabinet level position and functions as a coordinator, motivator, innovator, and occasionally as ramrod to put into operation critical components of the DWI Comprehensive Strategic Plan. She works closely with state agencies, law enforcement, the courts, the New Mexico Legislature, advocacy groups and the media.

Looking back on her two years spent directing New Mexico's efforts to reduce drunk driving, O'Connor said, "Our goal is prevention. We accomplish this through law enforcement, public awareness, and effective public policy. In New Mexico, first-time DWI offenders cause 70% of all fatal crashes, so increasing enforcement along with deterring drunk driving is essential. Making sure DWI offenders don't re-offend is an important part of our strategy as well."

Working closely with the DWI czar is the New Mexico Traffic Safety Bureau led by Director Michael Sandoval. Similar to highway safety offices in other states, this agency distributes federal highway safety funds. Distribution of these funds to state and local enforcement agencies for prevention efforts in coordination with DWI Strategic Plan is another key aspect of New Mexico's success. Working together in a data-driven approach, the Traffic Safety Bureau provides critical resources, programs, and leadership.

Another important aspect of the state's successful effort is the leadership and commitment of city and county administrators. Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez pressed for vehicle impoundment on second DWI arrest and forfeiture on conviction. Proceeds from this program provide additional enforcement resources and prevention programs for children and youth.

Finally, advocacy groups such as AAA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Impact DWI, Safer New Mexico Now, and the DWI Resource Center provide significant outreach and grassroots support, data tracking and legislative research. Offenders report that MADD's Victim Impact Panel program, which shows them first hand the devastation drunk driving can cause for victims and family survivors, is particularly impactful. …

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