New Mexico Car Accident Laws Staff Profile Picture
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New Mexico tallied 467 traffic fatalities in 2022, according to data from the state’s Department of Transportation and the University of New Mexico. This figure translates to more than one person being killed on New Mexico roads daily on average, falling within a similar range to the state’s recorded 483 fatalities for 2021.

23% of the traffic fatalities in 2022 involved crashes caused by alcohol intoxication, while over 40% involved motorists who failed to wear seat belts. Bernalillo County recorded the most fatalities at 111, while District 2 in Roswell saw the highest number of unbelted deaths at 51.7%.

Driver error and inattention also significantly contributed to fatal and injury crashes throughout New Mexico in 2020, based on the Annual Report compiled by the state’s DOT. Speeding was also highlighted as a major factor, contributing to crash-related fatalities in the same year by 10.8%.

To keep motorists and pedestrians safe, New Mexico imposes various traffic regulations and guidelines that help curb the common factors involved in crashes and collisions. It also has legislation and procedures to guide the victims of such accidents as they recover their losses.

New Mexico Seat Belt Law

To combat the number of unbelted injuries and deaths throughout New Mexico, the state’s government enforces the Safety Belt Use Act 66-7-372, which requires all drivers and passengers to wear seat belts regardless of their position inside a vehicle.

In addition, the state requires children under the age of 7 and those under 60 pounds to ride in a child safety seat, no matter their weight or age. Those aged between 7 and 12 must ride in booster seats until they can safely wear adult seat belts. Booster seats must have both shoulder and lap belts. Infants must be seated in a rear-facing position until they turn one year old or reach a weight of 20 pounds. However, the state recommends that all children under 35 pounds remain rear-facing inside a vehicle.

New Mexico also follows primary enforcement for its seat belt and child restraint laws. This means traffic officers can issue citations to vehicles stopped for other reasons if they find that the driver or passengers are not safely restrained.

Motorists who violate any of New Mexico’s seat belt regulations will be fined $25 and given two demerit points on their license for their first offense. Subsequent offenses will result in higher fines and more demerit points, increasing insurance premiums and potential license suspensions.

New Mexico DWI Law

Alcohol intoxication is another leading factor in accident-related fatalities throughout New Mexico. To counter this, the state penalizes motorists operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08% or more. For those under 21, their legal limit must not reach or exceed .02%.

Commercial drivers are also subject to a lower BAC threshold; if their BAC level is 0.04 percent or higher, they will be found guilty of driving while intoxicated. However, all drivers can be penalized if their driving is impaired by alcohol or drugs, regardless of their breath and blood test results.

A drunk driving offense escalates into aggravated DWI if:

  • The offender has a BAC level of .16% or more

  • The offender causes an accident that injures someone

Motorists can also face aggravated DWI charges if they refuse to undergo a chemical test, in line with the Implied Consent Act. Under this rule, drivers are automatically deemed to have consented to take breath and blood tests once they choose to operate a vehicle.

Drunk drivers in New Mexico face the following penalties:

First Offense

$500 fine

Maximum of 90 days in jail

1 year on probation and 1 year using an ignition interlock device

Second Offense

$1,000 fine (mandatory payment of $500)

Maximum of 1 year in jail (mandatory sentence of 4 consecutive days)

5 years on probation and 2 years using an ignition interlock device

Third Offense

$1,000 fine (mandatory payment of $750)

Maximum of 1 year in jail (mandatory sentence of 30 consecutive days)

5 years on probation and 3 years using an ignition interlock device

Fourth Offense

$5,000 fine

18 months in prison (mandatory sentence of 6 months)

5 years on probation and 3 years using an ignition interlock device (can request for the restoration of standard license after 5 years, provided there are no other convictions)

Subsequent DWI infractions after a fourth offense involve harsher sanctions, including a fine of up to $10,000 and a mandatory prison sentence of 10 years for an eighth offense. Repeat offenders must also participate in a substance abuse screening program and adopt any recommended treatments.

New Mexico Speeding Laws

New Mexico has absolute speed limits that drivers must follow at all times. Any driver exceeding an absolute speed limit will be fined and given demerit points on their license. The state’s specific limits are:

  • 15 miles per hour within school zones

  • 30 miles per hour within residential or commercial districts

  • 55 miles per hour on country roads without any given limits

  • 75 miles per hour on highways

  • Any posted limits within construction and safety zones (with the limits determined through an engineering study by the state’s Department of Transportation)

In addition to absolute speed limits, New Mexico motorists must observe basic speed regulations. This means they must always drive at a safe pace to ensure the safety of other drivers and pedestrians on highways. Even if the driver doesn't violate any absolute speed limits they can still be charged with a basic speeding violation if they drive unsafely.

Those who violate New Mexico’s speeding laws will be fined depending on how much they exceed the posted limits, with the fine ranging from $25 to $200. They can also receive between three and eight demerit points on their license.

In addition, speeding drivers can be charged with reckless driving if they show a “willful or wanton disregard” for the wellbeing of other motorists and move without caution at speeds that can easily endanger other people. Penalties include five days to six months in jail and a fine of $50 to $1,000, depending on how many reckless driving offenses a driver has committed.

New Mexico’s Right-Of-Way Regulations

Drivers in New Mexico have a responsibility to yield the right-of-way to other cars and pedestrians in various situations. This is done to prevent accidents, particularly when there are no traffic signs or lights along a certain roadway.

A driver must yield the right-of-way to:

  • Vehicles entering from the right in an intersection that has no traffic signals or signs

  • Vehicles going straight, if the driver is turning left

  • Vehicles already within a traffic circle or rotary, if the driver is entering the same area

  • Vehicles that reach a four-way stop first; the vehicle on the right is given priority if multiple vehicles are entering the stop at the same time

  • Vehicles already on the main road, if the driver is entering from the roadside, a side alley, or a driveway

  • Emergency service vehicles such as ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars that have their sirens or flashing lights on

  • School buses that have their flashing red lights on; after the bus has finished loading or unloading its passengers, the driver must check first to see if the road is clear of any children before proceeding

  • Trains crossing through a road

  • Pedestrians legally crossing a road, driveway, parking lot, sidewalk, or alleyway

  • Pedestrians with physical disabilities or those who are blind/visually impaired

New Mexico Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements

Under New Mexico law, motorists are required to carry automobile liability insurance coverage. This is used to cover the costs of medical bills, property damage, and funeral expenses in the event that a driver causes an accident that results in another’s injury or death. The minimum liability coverage required in the state is as follows:

  • $25,000 for the bodily injuries or death of a single person

  • $50,000 for the bodily injuries and deaths of two or more people

  • $10,000 for property damage per accident

Once motorists have complied with state laws by purchasing liability coverage, they must submit their insurance information to the New Mexico Insurance Information Database. They can also contact their providers and have them submit the information on their behalf.

When the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division sends a driver a Notice of Noncompliance, they have 30 days to show proof of insurance. Those who do not have the required insurance coverage will have their vehicle’s registration delayed, denied, or even suspended.

A driver’s liability insurance will only cover losses up to the policy’s coverage limits. Once these limits have been exhausted, the driver must personally shoulder any remaining costs. As such, it is recommended that car owners in the state go beyond the minimum amounts required for their liability coverage.

New Mexico Is an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims

New Mexico follows at-fault guidelines for insurance claims in car accidents. This means those who caused an accident must shoulder victims' losses in terms of injuries, damaged property, and deaths using their auto liability insurance coverage. This also applies if a family member or acquaintance was the one driving the insurance owner’s car.

Under New Mexico’s at-fault mandates, car accident victims can obtain compensation for their losses by:

  • Filing a claim against the offending driver’s insurance company

  • Filing a personal injury lawsuit against the offending driver

  • Filing a claim at their own insurance company (who will file a subrogation claim against the offending driver’s insurer after covering a victim’s losses)

New Mexico Is a Pure Comparative Negligence State for Car Accident Lawsuits

New Mexico follows the principle of pure comparative negligence for car accident lawsuits. Under this rule, plaintiffs may still recover damages from other drivers in an accident even if they are partially at fault. However, this also means the court will deduct a portion of a plaintiff’s awarded damages based on the percentage of their fault in the accident.

Unlike modified comparative negligence, pure comparative negligence does not bar plaintiffs from pursuing compensation even if they share most of the fault in an accident. This means a driver who is 99% liable for a crash can still recover $1,000 in a damage award worth $100,000.

Negligence and liability in an accident are determined by proving that:

  • The offending driver had a duty of reasonable care to avoid accidents by driving safely and adhering to traffic regulations

  • The driver breached that duty of reasonable care by violating a traffic regulation (driving while drunk, not yielding the right-of-way, driving past a red light, etc.)

  • The driver caused an accident as a result of that breach of duty

  • The plaintiff was injured in the accident

  • The plaintiff suffered damages due to the accident

Once these elements have been proven in court, a judge or jury will decide upon an offender’s liability. The following evidence can be used to support a plaintiff’s testimony regarding an at-fault driver’s negligence:

  • Eyewitness statements

  • Photographs of injuries and vehicle damage

  • Recordings from nearby surveillance cameras

  • Police reports

  • Accident reconstruction reports

  • Medical findings concerning a plaintiff’s injuries

  • The offender’s traffic citations

New Mexico Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents

The statute of limitations for car accident lawsuits and claims in New Mexico is three years, beginning from the date the accident took place. The same deadline applies for wrongful death claims if a car accident victim dies from injury, though the statute of limitations in such cases begins at the date of the victim’s passing.

If a government agency indirectly causes an accident by failing to maintain a road or properly set up traffic lights and signs, victims have up to two years to take legal action against the agency in question. They must also submit a tort claim notice within 90 days of the accident.

Lastly, if a car accident only caused property damage, the statute of limitations lasts four years instead of three.

Average Settlement for New Mexico Car Accident Lawsuits

Based on evaluations of different car accident lawsuits throughout New Mexico, the average settlements that a victim can get are:

  • $6,000 or more for accidents resulting in minor injuries

  • $40,000 or more for accidents resulting in moderate injuries

  • $300,000 or more for accidents resulting in grievous injuries

In addition, the payout range for specific types of accidents is as follows:

  • Between $5,000 to $200,000 for head-on collisions

  • Between $1,000 to $500,000 for rear-end collisions

  • Between $1,500 to $750,000 for side-impact collisions

It should be noted, though, that the amount of damages a plaintiff can actually get back can vary depending on the situation. For instance, a defendant’s liability coverage can only cover losses up to the policy’s limits. As such, there may not be enough money to cover all losses if there are multiple claimants in a single accident.

Damages in a car accident are often calculated by taking the following into account:

  • A victim’s past and future medical bills

  • Repair costs for a damaged car or property

  • Additional expenditures (vehicle rentals, replacement services, etc.)

  • Lost income, including loss of future earning capacity

  • Pain and suffering in relation to the severity of injuries

Punitive damages are also awarded in specific cases within New Mexico. This applies if it can be shown that the driver did something on purpose, with bad intentions, or without thinking about how it would affect other drivers and pedestrians. This can count in cases involving aggressive or drunk driving, as well as road rage.l 

Legal Resources for New Mexico Car Accident Victims

New Mexico Insurance Identification Database

The New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division, through its collaboration with PASCO, Inc., offers access to the Insurance Identification Database (IIDB), which matches registered vehicles with auto insurance information from providers throughout the state. This was established to help car owners comply with auto liability insurance requirements in line with local laws. The website also provides motorists with relevant information concerning insurance verification, citizen forms, and notification letters. The IIDB can be reached at (866) 891-0665.

New Mexico Driver Manual

The New Mexico Driver Manual provides motorists with information about traffic laws, violations, and basic driving etiquette. It has summarized sections detailing the state's different types of driving licenses and their requirements. It also informs citizens about the procedures and factors involved in the event of a crash or collision.

New Mexico Department of Transportation - Traffic Records Section

The New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Traffic Records Section provides citizens access to reports of motor vehicle accidents on state roadways. Those seeking specific reports to address insurance-related issues or other concerns can complete and submit requests via the DOT website’s Crash Data Request section. Data requests are normally processed within 15 business days.

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