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New Mexico Motorcycle Laws

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Beautiful landscapes, dry weather, and long expanses of road await riders in New Mexico. These factors contribute to the popularity of riding a motorcycle in the state. Yet experienced riders recognize that even great riding conditions pose dangers to motorcyclists. This mountainous terrain in the Land of Enchantment means that many riding routes involve steep inclines, sharp curves, and elevation changes.

Unfortunately, motorcycle accidents are common in New Mexico. According to traffic crash data published by the University of New Mexico, motorcycles accounted for 13.1% of fatal accidents in 2021. The most common contributing factor in these crashes was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, followed by overspeeding. 

Meanwhile, in 2022, there were 54 motorcycle fatalities in New Mexico, according to the university’s crash data report. Thirty-three of these fatalities were not wearing a helmet, and eight involved drinking. 

Impaired, distracted, or poor driving skills can lead to crashes and tragic or fatal consequences for bikers. When a motorcyclist hits the pavement, they may sustain broken bones. A severe complex fracture or a broken pelvis or vertebra could result in permanent disability. When a motorcycle accident damages the spinal cord, the rider may become partially or completely paralyzed. A biker can sustain brain damage, resulting in the loss of cognitive abilities and motor control. 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration supports New Mexico’s Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in May. The New Mexico Department of Transportation contributes to this initiative by using Share the Road media and roadway messaging to promote motorcycle safety. 

Motorcycle accident victims and injured plaintiffs can greatly benefit from knowing information on legislation that riders must follow. Local authorities throughout New Mexico strictly enforce these laws. In addition, the state adopts a pure comparative negligence rule, which allows injured motorcyclists to seek compensation even if they are predominantly at fault in an accident. 

New Mexico Motorcycle Helmet Law

Many studies have proven the importance of wearing a helmet. Helmets can decrease the risk of a severe head or brain injury in a motorcycle accident. For this reason, New Mexico passed a law that requires citizens to wear protective headgear while operating motorcycles. Under New Mexico Statutes Annotated Section 66-7-356, helmet use is mandatory for motorcycle or all-terrain vehicle drivers and passengers under 18

Upholding this requirement, the U.S. Department of Transportation establishes safety benchmarks for motorcycle helmets. The agency requires riders to wear a helmet certified by the American National Standards Institute or the Snell Memorial Foundation. These certifications signify that the helmet is crafted with exceptional quality and care. Additionally, a reliable helmet has a face shield free of scratches so the rider can clearly see the road ahead. It also has an outer shell that is shatter resistant, providing maximum protection. 

To further verify a helmet's adherence to safety regulations, one can look for the presence of a DOT sticker securely affixed to the outer back of the helmet. This small yet significant indicator means that the helmet complies with federal motor vehicle safety standards. 

New Mexico’s helmet law also sets user-specific criteria to enhance safety. One of these is the proper way to wear a helmet. Motorcycle operators and passengers must make sure that their helmets are properly and securely fastened to the head. 

It is therefore important to determine the actual shape of the rider’s head before buying a helmet. Motorcyclists must choose the right size and cross-reference it with a helmet size chart. In addition, the law requires reflective materials to be used on helmets. 

However, failure to wear a helmet is not considered contributory negligence under New Mexico law. A defendant in an accident claim cannot use the infraction of not wearing a helmet to prove comparative negligence against the other party. 

New Mexico Motorcycle Eye Protection Law

People aged 18 and above can ride motorcycles without wearing a helmet in New Mexico, but they are required to wear protective eyewear. The state’s motorcycle eye protection law requires legal adult riders to wear protective eyewear, unless their motorcycle has a fixed windscreen or windshield. An eye-protective device may be goggles, safety eyeglasses, or a face shield attached to a safety helmet, according to NMSA Section 66-7-355.

Some states do not specify the size of windshields, while others recommend that they must be 15 inches above the handlebars. A windscreen diverts oncoming air around riders and reduces tiredness. It can also serve as a protective shield that keeps road debris from getting to the motorcycle operator. In New Mexico, motorcyclists who do not comply with the rules on protective eyewear and windshields are guilty of a penalty assessment misdemeanor. 

New Mexico Lane Splitting Law

Lane-splitting is illegal in New Mexico. The state’s Code of Ordinances Section 10.04.086B prohibits motorcyclists from overtaking another vehicle in the same lane. It is also illegal to drive between lanes of traffic that are moving or stopped in the same direction. Over the past 20 years, attempts by state legislators to legalize lane splitting have failed. The prevailing law continues to require motorcyclists to remain in a single lane unless they overtake another vehicle.  

It is important to distinguish between lane splitting and lane sharing. Lane sharing occurs when two motorcyclists ride in the same lane close to one another. New Mexico allows lane sharing, though no more than two motorcyclists can share a lane. Lane splitting is also different from lane filtering, which is not allowed in the state. A motorcyclist commits lane filtering when he or she moves between lanes to get to the front of the line at a stoplight, stop sign, or intersection.  

Motorcyclists who break New Mexico’s lane-splitting law will receive a traffic ticket for a moving violation and must pay a fine. They may also face civil liability if they cause an accident while lane splitting. The state’s lane-splitting law, however, exempts police officers on motorcycles who need to ride between lanes of traffic to perform their job. 

New Mexico Motorcycle Passenger Law

There are no age restrictions for motorcycle passengers in New Mexico, as long as those who are 18 years old and younger wear DOT-approved helmets. Although passengers do not have control of the motorcycle, they are still subject to the same traffic laws as motorcycle operators. They can contribute to safe motorcycling by following safety guidelines, maintaining balance and stability, and communicating effectively.

New Mexico safety regulations include requirements for motorcycles that carry passengers. NMSA Section 66-7-355, for example, states that a motorcycle must have the right design and equipment if the operator wants to carry a passenger. A motorcycle designed to transport more than one person must have a permanent and regular seat to accommodate a passenger. Alternatively, a passenger may ride on a seat securely attached to the motorcycle’s side or rear. The motorcycle must also have footrests for passenger use. 

In addition, there are several safety rules that motorcycle passengers must observe. These include not holding packages that can obstruct the driver’s view and facing forward with a leg hanging on each side. These rules help motorcycle operators and passengers reduce the chances of an accident. 

New Mexico Motorcycle Insurance Requirements

After motorists have completed vehicle registration, they are required to purchase liability insurance. While some bikers leave $60,000 or a surety bond with the state treasurer's office, the majority prefer to get liability insurance coverage. This ensures their ability to pay for compensatory damages in the event of motorcycle accidents that cause serious harm to another driver's health or property. New Mexico law also requires motorcycle operators to always carry documents proving their insurance. 

New Mexico has a 25/50/10 insurance rule that requires three main types of insurance to operate a vehicle. Motorcyclists must carry a minimum of $25,000 in coverage for the injury or death of one person in an accident. They must also carry $50,000 in coverage for the injury or death of two or more people in a single accident. In addition, the law requires $10,000 coverage for property damage. 

The compulsory New Mexico motorcycle insurance only pays compensation to the other party involved in the accident. For this reason, motorcycle operators may consider purchasing optional insurance coverages to protect their own vehicle and health. These include collision coverage, which protects motorcycles in an accident with another vehicle or stationary object. Custom parts and equipment coverage is another important protection for motorcycle owners. It covers seats, backrests, and saddlebags. 

Unfortunately, motorcyclists have to rely on their own policies to pay for their bills if uninsured drivers hit them. This is why uninsured motorist coverage is important in the aftermath of a traffic accident, despite being optional. Purchasing this policy can save motorcycle operators a lot of money and protect them from the financial ruin associated with a collision. 

New Mexico Is an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims

New Mexico is an at-fault state for insurance claims. This means the law of negligence governs the state’s motorcycle and other motor vehicle accidents. At-fault parties are accountable for injuries and damages in motorcycle crashes. Under the law, injured victims file repair and medical reimbursement claims with the at-fault party’s insurance company.

Motorcycle accident victims can obtain compensation for injuries in several ways. They can seek a settlement by filing a direct claim with the other party’s insurer. Injured victims can also file a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier. For a civil award, victims can bring a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent driver.

In general, filing a motorbike accident claim in New Mexico is the same as filing a car accident claim. A claimant must produce proof of damages as well as the other driver's negligence. Compensation after a motorcycle accident may include present and future medical expenses for care and treatment. An injured victim can also seek compensation for lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. 

How Much Can Someone Sue for a Motorcycle Accident in New Mexico?

New Mexico does not have a cap on economic and pain and suffering damages in most personal injury cases. A jury can award as much for pain and suffering as it sees fit. This benefits injured operators and passengers in motorcycle accidents. The only caps on damages that New Mexico law defines are for claims against the government and certain medical malpractice cases.

The New Mexico Tort Claims Act provides protection for governmental bodies against personal injury claims. This protection extends to all government entities, including schools, public employees, and medical providers. NMSA Section 41-4-19 sets the caps at $700,000. The statute limits caps for past and future medical expenses to $300,000. It also sets the limit for damages other than medically related expenses to $400,000. This cap applies to personal injury and wrongful death claims regardless of the true level of harm, injuries, or damages.

Several exceptions are allowed by the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. For instance, it is possible to seek compensation from the government if the injuries resulted from the negligent operation of public utilities in infrastructure. Injuries related to dangerous property, such as a slip and fall or a physical attack caused by inadequate security on government property, are also compensable.

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

New Mexico is considered a “pure comparative negligence” state. This allows the plaintiff to seek damages equal to the percentage of fault assigned to the defendant, even if the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is greater than the lattert's. This also means that more than one party can be found at fault for a single accident. 

For example, if a motorcyclist commits lane splitting and is hit by a texting truck driver, his recoverable damages would be reduced by the fact that he was lane splitting. If he is entitled to $100,000 but the court finds him to be 45% to blame for the accident, he would only be entitled to $55,000. 

As per New Mexico laws, people can file a personal injury claim against someone who acted with intent to cause injury or damage. Injured victims can also file a claim against anyone who sells or manufactures a defective product. They may be paid for past, present, or future medical expenses. Furthermore, claimants can seek compensatory damages for lost wages and pain and suffering.

New Mexico Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcyclists in New Mexico have three years from the date of the accident or discovery of their injury to file a claim or civil lawsuit against at-fault parties and insurance companies. If the case is against a government agency, injured motorcyclists have two years to submit a claim. Meanwhile, those wishing to file a property damage-only case have a time limit of four years from the date of the accident.

While this is the general rule, New Mexico courts may make exceptions to the statute of limitations. For example, courts permit the filing of a claim against a defendant who has left the state until he or she returns. Injured victims may be able to postpone submitting their claims if the perpetrator is dead, imprisoned, or on active military duty.  

In some cases, the plaintiff and defendant reach a tolling agreement in which they both agree to waive the statute of limitations. In certain situations, delaying the filing of a claim can benefit both parties. More time would allow both sides to do things like potentially negotiate a resolution without having to go to court.

The longer an injured motorcyclist waits, the more difficult it will be to prove his or her case. There is a possibility that evidence would be lost, medical records would be compromised, or parties involved in motorcycle accidents would move away. Personal injury attorneys play a role in strengthening a claim or case against at-fault parties and insurance carriers. 

Legal Resources for New Mexico Motorcycle Accident Victims

NMDOT Traffic Safety Division

The Traffic Safety Division oversees programs aimed at reducing crashes and fatalities on New Mexico roadways. Its traffic safety programs include motorcycle safety and proper training. There are seven sites throughout the state providing sufficient frequency for training: Gallup, Albuquerque, Roswell, Santa Fe, Farmington, Las Cruces, and Alamogordo. The division can be reached at 877-667-8880 or 505-312-8430.  

Statewide Traffic Records Executive Oversight Committee

The purpose of STREOC is to guide the Statewide Traffic Records Coordinating Committee in developing a long-term strategic plan for traffic record system upgrades. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Committee (STRCC) helps traffic record entities coordinate their activities in the initiation, storage, and distribution of traffic record information. Its postal address is NMDOT Traffic Safety Division, PO Box 1149, Santa Fe, NM 87504-1149.

University of New Mexico, Geospatial and Population Studies, Traffic Research Unit

The UNM-GPS produced the New Mexico Traffic Crash Annual Report 2021, which compiled data on behalf of NMDOT. Some of the available data include maps displaying traffic crash information, the impact of traffic safety programs, and traffic crash trends and statistics.

State Bar of New Mexico Lawyer Referral Service

This referral service provides 30-minute consultations and case management services with an attorney for a fee of $35. It is located at 5121 Masthead NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109. It can be contacted at 800-876-6227. The New Mexico State Bar Foundation administers this lawyer referral service, which sponsors, promotes, and assists with social welfare programs that benefit New Mexicans. Its programs also cover legal services for the needy and elderly.         

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