After pleading guilty to drunken driving, a New Mexico man attended a mandatory forum to hear from accident victims–and he was drunk again, reports the New York Times. The episode illustrates the intractability of the problem of drunken driving in New Mexico, which until the early 1990’s led the nation in the rate of alcohol-related road deaths. The state then took actions that made it something of a model.
Now experts worry that the gains are eroding. New Mexico is the only state with a D.W.I. czar. A federal grant has put 10 full-time officers on patrol for drunken drivers in five problem counties. This year New Mexico became the first state to require first offenders to install a device on their vehicles that prevents their starting if the driver’s breath betrays appreciable alcohol. With fatalities again on the rise, embarrassing incidents involving public officials and deaths involving serial offenders, some of whom were still on the roads after as many as two dozen arrests for driving while intoxicated, experts worry that New Mexico is losing ground. “There is a long history of D.W.I. in New Mexico,” said Rachel O’Connor, an injury specialist named by Gov. Bill Richardson to coordinate research and enforcement programs as the first D.W.I. czar.