Careless Driving Legislation

2013 Careless Driving Accountability BillSenate Bill 290

The purpose of this bill is to give New Mexico Courts sentencing options that better match the range of outcomes possible when someone has committed the act of careless driving.

Existing accountability options for people found guilty of careless driving include a fine, up to $300.00 dollars, and/or the possibility of probation or jail time, up to 90 days.  While this is adequate in careless driving cases that only cause property damage or minor injury, it is inadequate in cases where the outcome is great bodily harm or death.  With Senate Bill 290, the accountability options will be increased.  Guilty careless drivers who cause the death or great bodily harm of another road user could be asked to pay a fine, up to $1,000.00 dollars and/or serve probation or jail time up to 364 days.  Accountability options for cases with property damage or minor injury would not change.
Tuesday February 12, 2013, SB 290 was given a 6-0-1 “do pass” recommendation in Senate Public Affairs Committee.  Senate Judiciary also gave SB290 a Do Pass recommendation on Wednesday February 20!  Today the bill was on a long list of items to be voted on, but today’s session adjourned before that happened.

Write to your Senator TODAY  

Urge your Senator to vote for the bill.

Ask them to lobby for the bill to be brought to a vote on the Senate floor ASAP!

The Senators talk to each other.  The more the issue is raised, the more likely they are to talk about it and vote in favor.  We need people to take action on this and let them know how important the bill is to us as cyclists and for traffic safety in general.  Remember your outrage when you hear about a careless driver killing a cyclist and then having to pay a $300 (or less) fine, etc.  Use that feeling of injustice as motivation to write an email.  If you live in the part of Valencia or Bernalillo county represented by Senator Michael Sanchez, you will note that he doesn’t have an email listed, only a phone number.  It is kind of a drag to inundate the secretary in his office with a bunch of phone calls voicing support of SB290, but there isn’t much else to do.  CALL!  I know that many letters are coming from The New Mexico Motorcycle Rights Organization members.  Add your cyclist voice to the mix today.

Below is a list of things that I feel this bill will accomplish, and things I don’t expect it to do.  Use any/all of this to help you write your email to your Senator.

Pass this information far and wide, to anyone you know who might support the bill and act.  Thanks for doing your part to help this bill pass.

Jennifer Buntz
Duke City Wheelmen

Careless Driving Legislation – SB290 – WILL:

  • Let families and survivors know that New Mexico is serious about improving traffic safety and that our legal system tries to mirror our value of human life and well-being;
  • Hold careless drivers accountable in a way that is commensurate with the outcome of their actions;
  • Give Judges sentencing options that distinguish between careless driving that causes property damage and careless driving that causes the death or great bodily harm of another road user;
  • Act as a deterrent, in that it will

a)      Reach some of New Mexico’s drivers as a reason to NOT drive carelessly,

b)      Raise awareness of the potential deadly consequences of careless driving,

c)      Reinforce the message that careless driving is not acceptable,

d)      Remind other drivers of the risks of careless driving & the benefits of attentive driving every time a careless driver is appropriately held accountable for the outcome of their actions;

  • Serve as another tool to bring down New Mexico’s fatal traffic crash incidence rate – which was 22% over the national average in 2009 (per capita);
  • Serve to address the second most frequently cited cause of crashes in New Mexico, Driver Inattention.  Alcohol was involved in 3.2% of NMs traffic crashes in 2009 (6th most frequent cause).  Driver Inattention was responsible 12.0% of the time (2009).  We need to start addressing these more frequent causes of traffic crashes in NM;
  • Enhance New Mexico’s reputation as a bicycle and pedestrian friendly place, which is important to bring both new employers and tourists, along with their dollars, to New Mexico;
  • Enable more of us to get the exercise we need to be and stay healthy because we are not scared to go out for a walk, run or bike ride;
  • Encourage the use of alternative transportation means, which in turn is good for the environment, our wallets and our health;
  • Support the many small businesses in New Mexico that cater to alternative road users, including  motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians, joggers, etc.

 

SB 290 WON’T:

  • Erase the pain of victims’ families or survivors.  It will help, but as we know, nothing will make everything right again;
  • Clog-up the Courts, District Attorneys’ offices or other components of NMs Judicial System.  On average, there are only 20-25 cases per year (an average value based on NMDOT data, 2000-2009);
  • Reach all drivers as a deterrent – other tools are necessary too, like education, Public Service Announcements, increased awareness, etc.;
  • Magically fix New Mexico’s traffic safety issue;
  • Eliminate careless driving;
  • Elevate careless driving to a felony level offense.  Careless drivers who cause the death or great bodily harm of another road user will still be held accountable at the misdemeanor level;
  • Give any special privilege to bicycles, motorcycles or any other group of road users – this bill is written to apply equally to all road users.

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When one reads the NM statute that defines careless driving it is such a good, common sense statement that should be in mind whenever we are on the road.

NM Stat § 66-8-114. Careless driving:
A. Any person operating a vehicle on the highway shall give his full time and entire attention to the operation of the vehicle.
B. Any person who operates a vehicle in a careless, inattentive or imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, weather and road conditions and all other attendant circumstances is guilty of a misdemeanor.

We feel that by adding language that holds those found guilty of careless driving accountable in a way that is commensurate with the outcome of their actions, more New Mexico drivers will adopt behaviors that prevent them from being careless.

There are many other points you can use to express your support for this legislation.  These include:

  • Survivors, victim’s families and friends are shocked and horrified to learn how little consequence the careless driver faces when their actions have cause someone to die.
  • As part of the larger effort to improve the driving habits of New Mexicans’ and make our streets and highways safer for all, New Mexico law needs to send the clear message that careless driving is not acceptable.
  • The change is small but goes a long way towards making the consequences of careless driving fit the outcome.
  • By adopting SB290 into law, New Mexico could be a state leading the way to better driver accountability.  We could join Colorado, Oregon and Delaware who have changed their careless driving laws in the past three years.  Don’t let us be last on this list too!
  • Although many feel this change is very important, it will have a relatively small impact on the New Mexico Judicial system, only an average of 17 cases per year.  More details can be seen in this NMDOT Analysis – Careless Driving Incident Rate. 

Here is a Senator Sample Letter you are welcome to use, all or in part.

Whatever you say, end by thanking the Senator and urging them to support SB290.

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Continue reading and following the links below to learn more about the impact of the current NM law on individual cases involving cyclists.

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The 2012 efforts of support for identical legislation got a lot of press coverage.

KRQE-TV story

KOAT-TV story

Op-Ed in Santa Fe New Mexican 12/27/2011

The crash that claimed Heather Reu‘s life in 2009 was caused by a distracted driver.

It is heartbreaking that there is a 2012 story to add to this page with almost the same script.  Scott Duane Lane was killed January 10, 2012 by a driver so distracted she didn’t even know she had run a red light.  This case wrapped up October 26, 2012 when the No Contest plea that Carol Svinarich entered resulted in her being sentenced to 90 days of “house arrest”, paying a $300.00 dollar fine and almost $18,000 dollars in restitution to the family.

KOAT-TV and KOB-TV have covered the 2009 Reu case and the ongoing efforts to increase the penalty options when crashes like this happen.

KOAT-TV reports on two crashes in Albuquerque last week and this legislative initiative on January 14, 2012.

Also in 2012, we have seen two other instances where the death of a cyclist has been punished by the same sentence a “careless driver” in a fender-bender crash would face.  Bruce Wickensburg, the driver who killed Dan Montoya was sentenced to 90 days suspended license and a $300.00 dollar fine.  Miranda Pacheco, found guilty of “careless driving”  by a jury in the death of David Anderson was sentenced to 90 days in jail and paying the $300.00 dollar fine.

 Basics about this legislation:

  •  This legislation (formerly HB12)  will increase the penalty options for a very distinct type of crash.  The crash must be due to careless driving that causes the great bodily harm or death of another road user.
  • Careless driving encompasses distracted and inattentive driving, including texting, cell phone use or any other activity that diverts a driver’s full attention from their duty to drive safely.

NMSA 66-8-114. Careless driving.
A.     Any person operating a vehicle on the highway shall give his full time and entire attention to the operation of the vehicle.

  1. Any person who operates a vehicle in a careless, inattentive or imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, weather and road conditions and all other attendant circumstances is guilty of a misdemeanor.
  • Currently the maximum penalty for this misdemeanor is $300.00 and/or 90 days jail/probation no matter how minor or severe the consequences of the crash are.  That is why we see fender-bender crashes punished in the same way as a crash that kills or severely injures someone
  • This legislation seeks to make the punishment better fit the crime by increasing the maximum penalty for careless driving that causes the death or great bodily harm of another road user to $1000.00 and/or 364 days jail/probation.
  • This legislation (formerly HB12)  will have no effect on existing laws or penalties for homicide by vehicle cases.
  • This legislation (formerly HB12)  applies equally to all road users, regardless of vehicle type used.
  • Since 1979, when the mother of a teen age girl killed by a drunk driver started MADD, drivers across the country have become more aware of the risks of driving under the influence.  The alcohol related crash and fatality rates have come down in the last 33 years because of two things: (1) the increased awareness of the risks and (2) the increased cost of the behavior.  HB12 is following this successful model to raise awareness of the risks of careless driving and to put penalties on the books that will actually function as a deterrent.
  • It is currently against the law to drive carelessly.  We have to raise the cost of careless driving for NMSA 66-8-114 to be significant to drivers.  This legislation (formerly HB12) will do just that.
  • The New Mexico Motorcycle Rights Organization and Duke City Wheelmen Foundation, representing thousands of New Mexico road users, feel strongly that increasing the penalty options is an important component to achieving our goal of improving road safety.
  • Both organizations engage in numerous other activities equally important in reaching this goal, including educating motorcyclists, bicyclists and motorists on how to share the road, raising awareness through rides, rallies, media outreach of all types and the distribution of safety equipment.
  • We are asking for your support of This legislation (formerly HB12) in order to put this vital piece of the road safety puzzle into place.
This entry was posted in Careless vs Reckless by jb. Bookmark the permalink.

About jb

I have been riding a bicycle throughout New Mexico and the US for over 30 years. Drawn into advocacy for safer cycling after my long time cycling friend Paula Higgins was killed by a driver in 2006, my efforts have grown and expanded since that time. Join me in working towards safer streets and highways for all New Mexico road users.

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