ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a dangerous, growing problem that is killing people in New Mexico.
The Department of Transportation says the number of distracted driving crashes in Bernalillo County has gone up each year since 2013.
Nathan Barkocy, a 16-year-old Saint Pius student was on his bicycle as he trained for the tour of the Gila when investigators say a distracted driver hit him in January 2016.
The teen was in a coma for nearly two weeks before a long road to recovery.
“A split second can be the difference between your life and death, and so we don’t want people to take that for granted,” said Michael Sandoval, NMDOT Modal Division Director.
NMDOT tracks the trends, hoping to curb the crashes.
“What we’ve really been tracking for a long time is what we refer to as driver inattention,” Sandoval said. “Putting on your makeup, eating, changing the radio.”
Plus, the big one: People using their cell phones.
“Certainly there’s a lot more crashes now attributed to cell phones and texting,” Sandoval said. “Officers are able now to identify that there’s been a lot more citations over the last couple years for that, so officers are beginning to enforce that more and more.”
NMDOT’s preliminary data shows distracted drivers have gotten into 3,985 crashes in Bernalillo County so far this year.
Based on crash reports from law enforcement the department says there have been 5,056 distracted driving crashes that damaged property — 3,113 involving injuries and 47 deadly crashes statewide this year.
NMDOT collects about 50,000 crash reports each year from law enforcement agencies statewide, going through each one to see how many involved distracted drivers.
Still, the department says the reality is that it’s probably happening even more than the numbers show.
“The reason for the crash is based on what the officer knows at the time, and people are not likely to admit some of the behaviors that they might have been doing before the crash occurred,” Sandoval said.
The driver in the crash that sent Barkocy to the hospital was charged with careless driving.
Marlin Austin was sentenced to three months of probation.