Reckless and Aggressive Drivers in New Mexico
Every vehicle operator in the United States, including those in New Mexico, has a duty to exercise care at all times to prevent an accident. This includes:
- The duty to keep a proper lookout and drive defensively;
- The duty to maintain proper control of the vehicle to avoid dangerous situations; and
- The duty to follow the traffic laws.
The exercise of these duties are considered the exercise of ordinary care. Negligence happens. Distractions happen. They may not be intentional, but a part of driving in a time when people are overstressed and have other things on their minds. Add into the mix reckless and aggressive drivers who know what they are doing and often do it intentionally and without care. The roads can become a much more dangerous place for all of us. This kind of behavior on the road is unacceptable and leads to needless auto accidents that can result in serious injuries and/or death. If you have been a victim of a reckless and aggressive driver in New Mexico, you have rights and you have options.
What is Reckless and Aggressive Driving in New Mexico?
You have probably driven on I-25 or I-40 when another motorist has sped past you, and you could almost feel your car shake because of it. You have probably been on another road in New Mexico when a driver has tailgated you or cut in and out of your lane and another lane, sharply, causing some motorists to brake abruptly and annoying everyone else on the road. These are examples of aggressive and reckless driving. And in New Mexico, these are also examples of crimes. There are specific criminal and civil laws designed to punish reckless and aggressive drivers.
Reckless & Aggressive Driving as a Criminal Matter
NMSA § 66-8-113 (2011) defines the criminal act of reckless driving as:
Any person who drives any vehicle carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others and without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property is guilty of reckless driving.
If convicted of reckless driving, the motorist will be punished according to the law, which could include imprisonment and/or fines.
Second or Subsequent Offenses
Imprisonment: 5 - 90 days
Imprisonment: 10 days to 6 months
Fine: $25.00 - $100.00
Fine: $50.00 - $1,000
In addition to the sentence, the convicted person could have his or her driver's license or driver's permit suspended up to 90 days.
Reckless & Aggressive Driving as a Civil Matter
If the reckless and aggressive driver causes a collision, and injuries or death result from that crash, the reckless and aggressive driver is liable so long as it was his or her driving that caused it. The driver could be responsible for compensatory damages and punitive damages.
- Compensatory Damages. These are both economic (medical bills, lost past and future wages, funeral expenses, etc.) and non-economic (pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, loss of consortium, etc.) damages.
- Punitive Damages. These damages are damages awarded to an injured party when the conduct of the other driver is malicious, willful, reckless, or wanton. These damages are awarded for the purposes of punishment and to deter other drivers from engaging in similar behavior.
Is Speeding a form of Reckless Driving in New Mexico?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that throughout the U.S., speeding or speeding-related auto collisions cost society well-over $50 billion a year. According to NHTSA, in 2015, speeding caused 27 percent of all car crashes in the U.S. that resulted in fatalities, and that number increases to 34 percent in New Mexico. New Mexico takes speeding seriously and has been ranked as the 4th strictest state on speeding and reckless driving. Speeding, however, is not always legally a form of reckless driving.
Most states have a certain miles per hour (mph) over the speed limit that automatically qualify the driver as reckless driving. In New Mexico, that magic number is 26 mph. Therefore, if a motorist is driving 66 mph in a 40 mph speed zone, he or she is committing the crime of reckless driving. In New Mexico, speed limits are also “absolute,” which means that to exceed the limit is enough evidence needed to produce a conviction; there is no defense, even if the motorist claims he or she was driving cautiously.
What Rights do You Have as an Injured Party?
As an injured party or as a family member of someone who died in an accident, you are entitled at least the following rights under the law.
- You have the right to retain a lawyer of your choice to represent you and your personal injury/wrongful death claim.
- You have the right to file a claim against that at-fault party to seek compensation.
- You have a right to refuse a settlement if you do not agree with the terms of the settlement as offered by the at-fault party's auto insurance carrier.
- You have the right to file a complaint (lawsuit) against the relevant party(s) and to bring your claims before a judge and jury.
- You have the right to seek punitive damages if the driver acted recklessly, maliciously, willfully, or wantonly.
A Word on Punitive Damages & Reckless Driving...
An injured party has the right to seek punitive damages in cases where the injuries were caused due to recklessness. The amount awarded depends greatly on the offender's behavior and overall circumstances, including any aggravating and/or mitigating circumstances. Because reckless driving is also a crime, if the offender is convicted, the conviction itself will generally justify a generous award of punitive damages in a civil action. (See Chavarria v. Fleetwood Retail Corporation of New Mexico, 2006-NMSC-29, ¶ 39).
Punitive damages are meant to deter the offender specifically and society generally. People understand money sometimes more than they do jail. A person can stay a few nights in jail and not be changed materially but bankrupt them and that will get anyone's attention. As such, even in cases where the award for economic and non-economic damages may be relatively low, an award of punitive damages can still be significant if it is appropriate to punish the offender and deter others from committing the same reckless behavior. (See Chavarria v. Fleetwood Retail Corporation of New Mexico, 2006-NMSC-29, ¶ 37.)
Legal Representation for New Mexico Victims
When a victim is recovering from an automobile accident, filing claims or lawsuits against the at-fault party(s) can seem overwhelming and exhausting, especially because there are so many things to know, deadlines to meet, and questions unanswered. An experienced personal injury attorney working in New Mexico can help victims gain access to the compensation they deserve as they begin to put their lives back together. Call Revo Smith Law today at (505) 293-8888 if you are interested in speaking to a compassionate, competent, and courageous personal injury lawyer. The initial consultation is free.