NM marks 36-year low of drunken driving deaths

Mary Hudetz
The Associated Press
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, center, hugs a relative of a victim of a drunken driving crash during a press conference in Albuquerque on March 1.
  • There were 122 deaths from drunken driving crashes last year, down from 166 in the year before that.
  • Data show that New Mexico consistently surpassed the national average for DWI-death from 2003-2014.
  • Governor says more DWI checkpoints and targeting repeat offenders have helped lower the rate.

ALBUQUERQUE — The number of people killed in drunken driving crashes last year decreased by 28 percent in New Mexico, and marked a 36-year low for such deaths in a state that has long struggled with high DWI rates, the governor said Wednesday.

In all, there were 122 DWI deaths in 2015, down from 166 the year before. Gov. Martinez released the latest figures during a news conference in Albuquerque, saying the numbers were encouraging but showed the state still needs to improve.

"While this shows tremendous progress, we still have a lot of work to do," she said. "Even one death is too many."

Figures show New Mexico consistently surpassed the national average in drunken driving-related deaths between 2003 and 2014, according to an analysis of state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials have not yet released 2015 findings, making it too early to know whether New Mexico has improved its standing nationally with DWI deaths.

Martinez credited executive actions over the past year with helping curb drunken driving in the state. Those initiatives included saturating patrols on key highways, setting up more DWI checkpoints in the state, targeting repeat offenders, and rounding up parole jumpers and DWI fugitives.

The state also aired a series of television ads featuring law enforcement officers sharing their stories about the consequences of driving drunk. The state planned to release a new ad Wednesday showing a first responder trying to help a victim at the scene of a crash.

In February, state lawmakers approved legislation with stiffer penalties for some repeat DWI offenders. The new law will also make vehicular homicide while under the influence a second-degree felony, and increase the potential sentence for those convicted from six to 15 years.

Convicted drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes also will face harsher sentencing under the new law, and vehicular homicide while under the influence will be classified as a second-degree felony.