Report: New Mexico has one of nation's highest rates of drunk-driving deaths

Law enforcement officials urge citizens to avoid intoxicated driving

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
Farmington Police Department Sgt. Brian Johnston conducts a field sobriety test on Jan. 13, 2016, after responding to a car crash on Butler Avenue between East Main Street and East Broadway Avenue.
  • New Mexico has the fourth-highest rate of impaired driving fatalities in the United States.
  • Yhe most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was used in the report.
  • A San Juan County Sheriff's Office official says drinking water or coffee won't help sober up a drunk driver.

AZTEC — Local law enforcement officials are encouraging citizens to avoid driving while intoxicated as New Mexico recently posted one of the highest rates of drunk driving deaths in the nation.

The state has the fourth-highest rate of impaired driving fatalities in the United States with 5.74 deaths per 100,000 people, according to a Safewise report released Wednesday.

The agency used the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 2017 and ranked Wyoming as the state with the highest rate of drunk driving rates with 7.59 deaths per 100,000 people.

Members of the Farmington Police Department and the San Juan County Sheriff's Office shared advice on handling alcohol consumption and driving during the holiday season.

Lt. Daniel Clark of the Sheriff's Office said the agency typically handles about 30 DWI arrests a month, but the number of intoxicated drivers could be much higher.

"The problem is, a majority of intoxicated drivers drive drunk many times before they ever get caught," Clark said. "It's definitely a problem because if we are only getting 30, there are significantly more out on the road."

The Sheriff's Office already has eclipsed the 374 DWI arrests it made in 2017 with 441 arrests made through the end of November, according to Clark.

Clark cited the performance of patrol deputies, saying they have been highly effective at making DWI arrests as one of the reasons for the increase.

Clark and Sgt. Brian Johnston of the Farmington Police Department both said if anyone plans to consume alcohol, they should have a plan to avoid driving while intoxicated.

"The safest thing is if you had any drinks is have someone else drive, and that's the best way to do it," Clark said. "If people are trying to find the acceptable level (of intoxication), it's the wrong train of thought."

Johnston said he wished to remind citizens that only time can sober a drinker up, as drinking water or coffee while intoxicated does not help anyone reach a state in which they are able to drive legally.

On certain holidays like Christmas and New Year's Eve, law enforcement agencies usually have officers on patrol focused on finding intoxicated drivers and manning sobriety checkpoints.

Clark said some of the obstacles San Juan County residents deal with is a lack of a major mass transportation system, along with limited bus and taxi service. He said the area doesn't have a lot of resources for people to contact for a ride like ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Johnston also urged drivers who have not consumed alcohol to be cognizant of other drivers on the road. He said if they see something unsafe, they should notify law enforcement.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at