More people are choosing to commute by bicycle due to its health, environmental, and economic benefits. However, those who ride their bikes remain one of the most vulnerable road users. Data from the CDC reveals that more than 130,000 individuals are injured in bicycle accidents across the country annually, with around 1,000 of those accidents being fatal.
In a study conducted by a Florida-based law firm, New Mexico ranked seventh among the states considered the most dangerous for bicyclists, with 2.91 bicyclist fatalities per 100,000, 23% higher than the national average. According to the figures analyzed by The League of American Bicyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians face common threats posed by arterial roadways, as these roads account for 85% of biker deaths in the state. Compared to other states, New Mexico has fewer bicycle laws and is relatively loose with bicyclist rights and responsibilities. New Mexico Statutes Section 66-3-702 states that all bicyclists are granted the same rights that apply to motor vehicle drivers.
To reduce injuries and fatalities involving bike riders, the state's Department of Transportation has created and invested in the New Mexico Prioritized Bicycle Network Plan. This article discusses the state’s bike laws and personal injury liability rules for cyclists, accident victims, and plaintiffs.
New Mexico Bicycle Helmet Laws
New Mexico enacted the Child Helmet Safety Act in 2007, requiring people 18 years of age and younger to wear a well-fitted protective helmet with straps fastened securely to the head when riding bicycles. The state rule also covers those who ride tricycles, scooters, and skateboards. If a parent or legal guardian is found to have knowingly permitted a minor to operate a bike without a helmet, they can be obliged to pay a civil penalty of not more than $10. Meanwhile, adult bikers are not legally required to use helmets when riding. However, they are encouraged to do so to reduce the risk of serious and deadly injuries in road accidents. According to the CDC, bicyclists must replace their helmets if they have been damaged or involved in a crash. Bike helmets are manufactured to help protect the rider’s head and brain from serious impact. The one-impact rule suggests that the foam in the helmet, which will crush after an impact, will no longer be able to protect the rider’s head if involved in another crash.
Correct Equipment for Bicycles in New Mexico
Bicycles must have the proper equipment before they can be operated on state roads. According to New Mexico Statute 66-3-707, every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake that can stop the bike on dry, clean, level pavement. Bicyclists are also prohibited from operating a bike without a bell or other device capable of giving a sound, except a whistle or siren, that is audible for at least a 100-foot distance. The state law also mandates that bicycle riders traveling at night equip their bikes with a front headlight that can emit a white light visible for at least 500 feet and a Motor Vehicle Division-approved red rear reflector, which should be visible from 50 to 300 feet. Moreover, a lamp that can emit a red light visible from 500 feet may be used in addition to the red rear light. Bicycles should also have properly fixed seats.
New Mexico Bicycle Riding Rules
New Mexico bicycle riders are obliged to follow bicycle-specific roadway rules and regulations. Section 66-3-703 of the state's Motor Vehicle Code states that every individual operating a bicycle must only ride on a regular and permanent seat attached to the bike. They should not ride on the handlebars or wheel pegs. Each bicycle shall also carry up to one person at a time, unless it is designed to carry more.
Meanwhile, Section 66-3-704 specifically instructs bicycle riders not to cling or attach themselves to any moving vehicle on a roadway. In addition, under Section 66-3-706, bicyclists are prohibited from carrying articles that prevent them from keeping at least one hand on the handlebar. They must follow these rules and also avoid riding while drunk, on drugs, or texting to ensure their safety on the road.
Riding on Roadways and Bicycle Paths
Bicyclists in New Mexico are governed by the same general traffic laws as motor vehicle drivers. They are mandated to only use bicycle-designated paths. In the absence of a bike lane, cyclists have the right to ride on the road. However, they are required to stay as far to the right side of the road as possible, except when turning or passing. It is also their responsibility to watch out for other vehicles going the same way. Two bikers may ride abreast of one another, especially on sections of the roadway that are meant specifically for them. But they need to make sure they ride in such a way that they do not become a public safety hazard. Additionally, bikers cannot share a lane or commit lane splitting with another motor vehicle. In New Mexico, riding on sidewalks is neither permitted nor prohibited, but some municipal ordinances may state otherwise.
The state does not recognize the Idaho Stop laws, which allow bicyclists to treat a stop sign as a “yield” sign. It means bikers stopped by a red light at intersections in New Mexico must wait for the light to turn green to advance. They cannot simply ride through the intersection while the light is red.
Electric Bikes in New Mexico
The use of electric bicycles, or e-bikes, is increasing across the U.S. In New Mexico, the state government does not subject e-bikes to the licensing and insurance requirements that apply to motor vehicles, as they are regulated like traditional bicycles. The three classes of e-bikes in the state are shown in the table below:
Equipped with a motor that assists only when the rider is pedaling, stopping its assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
Equipped with a throttle-actuated motor that ceases to assist when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.
Equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and stops to assist when the bike reaches 28 mph.
These types of transportation are permitted on roadways, bike paths, and lanes. However, they must be fitted with MVD-approved lamps, bells, and brakes before being operated. Individuals aged 15 and above may ride electric bicycles, except for Class 3, which has a minimum operator age of 16. For helmet use, only riders under 14 years of age are required to wear protective headgear when riding on roadways.
Is New Mexico a Fault-Based State for Bike Accidents?
New Mexico follows a fault-based system or a tort-based structure in terms of bike accidents. It means the driver or individual liable for the wrongdoing that caused the accident will be financially responsible, with the use of their insurance, for all persons who suffered injuries or incurred property damage. The state also uses the pure comparative negligence rule to assess the fault in road mishaps. According to the law, any individual injured in a bicycle accident may still secure compensation in a lawsuit, but the amount will depend on their share of liability. For example, if the judge or jury finds the plaintiff 20% accountable for the accident and the total award is $80,000, the plaintiff will only receive 80% of the amount, or $64,000.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in New Mexico?
Bicyclists are incredibly vulnerable roadway users. If they are injured while riding a traditional or electric bicycle due to a motorist’s negligent actions, a hazard on the roadway, a malfunctioning traffic signal, a poorly maintained road condition, or other cause that was not their fault, they should be able to obtain compensation for their losses. They can recover compensatory damages that cover hospital bills, future medical costs, lost earnings, property damage expenses, emotional anguish, and pain and suffering.
Additionally, plaintiffs may pursue punitive damages as a form of punishment for the at-fault parties’ negligence or carelessness.
New Mexico has no caps on the types of damages that can be awarded for a bicycle accident claim. Filing a claim for a bike accident pushes through like any other type of vehicle crash claim. In instances where the liable driver's insurance provider refuses to offer a fair settlement, the injured bicyclist can file a civil personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. It is best to hire an experienced bike accident or personal injury lawyer to help them build a strong case against the defendant and ensure they receive the maximum compensation they deserve.
What Is New Mexico's Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Victims of bicycle accidents have three years from the date of the incident to file an injury claim or lawsuit. Failure to file within the statute of limitations may force the plaintiff to lose their opportunity to seek compensation. In cases where a bike accident results in death, the family members or relatives also have three years from the date of the victim’s passing to file a wrongful death claim. Also, according to New Mexico Statutes Section 37-1-4, if a bike accident victim had personal property damaged following the crash, they could file a claim within four years from the date of the accident.
For cases with government agencies or employees as defendants, plaintiffs should submit a notice within 90 days before lodging a suit. If they opt to preserve their rights with the 90-day filing, they will only have two years to file a lawsuit under the state's statute of limitations rules.
The state's deadline has exceptions. Minors and those declared incapacitated have one year to file a personal injury claim following their 18th birthday or the termination of their incapacity.
Legal Resources for New Mexico Bicycle Accident Victims
The lawyer referral service of the State Bar of New Mexico connects bicycle accident victims planning to sue at-fault individuals with personal injury lawyers in their areas. The organization provides a 30-minute consultation with an attorney, which includes case management, for a fee of $35. Plaintiffs may also utilize the online bar directory of the State Bar of New Mexico to find the lawyer of their choice.
Individuals involved in bicycle accidents in New Mexico may request crash data by filling out the form on the state's Statewide Traffic Records System website. Applicants may pay a fee for the information needed if the request requires that the information be retrieved or manipulated, or a copy from the database be made for private use. They will be informed of any charges before the request is processed. Data requests are usually completed within 15 days.
Bicycle accident victims in the state may access the official website of the state's court system to access legal documents, forms, programs, and services to assist them with their legal matters. They can also check out a specific court case on the site. People may also download the free Case Lookup Mobile App for convenient access to information about criminal and civil court cases, including scheduled hearings.
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