Drunk-driving crashes kill more than 10,000 people a year. That’s one person every 50 minutes. Many states, including New Mexico, have taken steps to keep drunk drivers off the roads. Here is a summary of the primary drunk driving laws in our State.
Blood Alcohol Limits
The national standard for impairment is a blood alcohol level of .08%. However, in addition to this national standard, New Mexico has imposed even stricter limits for drivers under the age of 21 (.02%) and adult drivers of commercial vehicles (.04%). Drivers who are believed to be intoxicated or impaired can be compelled to take a breathalyzer test at the scene or have their blood alcohol test performed at a hospital. The cost for the test is $85, increased from $65 in 2010, by Senate Bill 32.
Refusal to submit to breathalyzer or blood alcohol testing carries a substantial penalty: a one-year driver’s license suspension. Drivers who wish to dispute these penalties must request a hearing within 10 days of the date of the license suspension. The fee for the hearing is $25, or a statement requesting waiver of the fee due to financial hardship. Failure to request a hearing will result in license suspension for a full year with no restricted-driving privileges.
Penalties for Driving While Impaired [Driving Under the Influence]
If drivers fail to request a hearing, or if the results of a hearing or court case go against the driver, the penalties imposed for driving while impaired are stiff. For non-commercial drivers, age 21 or over, convicted of a first offense, the penalty is a six-month suspension of driving privileges. For drivers under age 21, and commercial drivers over age 21, the penalty for a DWI conviction is a one-year suspension of driving privileges. A fine of up to $500, along with costs for court-ordered screening, treatment and community service may also be imposed.
The stakes are higher for a second or third DWI conviction. Driving privileges are suspended for two years for a second offense and three years for a third DWI offense. A fine of up to $1,000, community service, and costs for court-ordered screening and treatment may also be imposed, along with jail time of up to 364 days.
Penalties for a fourth DWI conviction include a lifetime suspension of driving privileges, a maximum fine of $5,000, and costs for court-ordered screening treatment. Mandatory jail time of six months is also imposed, with a possibility of up to 18 months’ imprisonment.
Aggravated DWI applies under the following circumstances:
- Drivers with blood alcohol levels of .16 or higher
- Impaired drivers who cause bodily injury or death to another person
- Drivers who refuse to submit to chemical testing and who are determined to have been driving under the influence based on supporting evidence in the case.
First offenders who are convicted of aggravated DWI must spend 48 hours in jail, in addition to the standard DWI penalties. For a second offense, the penalty is an additional 96 hours of jail time. Drivers convicted of a third aggravated DWI offense must spend an additional 60 days in jail.
Restricted Driving Privileges
Under certain circumstances, drivers convicted of DWI can obtain a restricted license. Drivers with restricted licenses are generally limited to driving to and from work, religious services, medical appointments, attorney conferences and similar reasons. They also must install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for any vehicle they intend to drive. These devices must be installed and monitored by approved providers. The fee for a restricted license is $113. Drivers also must pay for the installation and monthly maintenance of the IID, which must remain installed for at least a year after conviction.
Not Just Drugs or Alcohol
It should be noted that alcohol and drugs are not the only potential causes of impairment. Drivers taking certain prescriptions and even over-the-counter medications may also be at risk of arrest or conviction for driving while intoxicated. Over-the-counter or prescription medications that come with warnings that they can cause drowsiness should never be taken before getting behind the wheel.
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