A proposal pending before the New Mexico State Legislature would, if passed, increase the criminal penalties for the offense of careless driving. As it stands, drivers can be charged with careless driving when they fail to devote their full attention to operating their vehicle while in motion.
Police often use the careless driving offense as a way of ticketing motorists who are responsible for bicycle accidents and motorcycle accidents, such as in cases where the driver just was not paying attention and struck a motorcyclist or bicyclist.
However, many advocates for bicyclists and motorcyclists think that the law just is not strict enough. Currently, a motorist who strikes a bicyclist carelessly may have to pay $300 and spend up to 90 days in jail. This is the case even if the motorist seriously injured or killed the bicyclist or motorcyclist.
Under the new proposal, a person successfully accused of careless driving could pay up to $1,000 in fines and spend up to a year in jail. Furthermore, the penalty will be classified differently so as to reinforce the seriousness of the offense. This new enhanced penalty will only apply if, in the course of driving carelessly, the motorist either kills or seriously injures, that is, causes great bodily harm, to another person.
Hopefully, this new measure will get passed and it will encourage drivers in the Albuquerque area to drive safely and be on the lookout for motorcycles and bicycles. But, it is still important to remember that no matter how steep criminal penalties are, the purpose of the criminal justice system is not to compensate victims. To get full compensation, a bicyclist who is the victim of an inattentive or careless driver will likely need to pursue the appropriate civil cause of action.