In 2004, approximately 170,000 New Mexico adults reported binge drinking during the past month, and about 24,000 binge drinkers in the past month reported drinking in a bar or club during their most recent binge drinking episode.1 These findings were used to support the implementation of a prevention campaign against binge drinking and alcohol-impaired driving, including changes in New Mexico’s liquor control regulations. The Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) prevention campaign, launched in 2005, had two major components—reducing alcohol service to persons who are already intoxicated per New Mexico law; and implementing evidence-based strategies for reducing alcohol-impaired driving. The comprehensive campaign was a multi-agency effort, engaging state agencies and community organizations. The program focused on the six New Mexico counties with the highest numbers and/or rates of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes.
The first component of the campaign involved a policy change. To take steps to reduce excessive drinking, New Mexico convened a task force in 2005 to evaluate the state liquor control regulations. Prior to 2006, the law stated that an establishment could lose its liquor license after five illegal sales and services violations in a one-year period. Illegal sales and service includes both sales to minors and sales to intoxicated persons (i.e., over-service). New Mexico’s definition of over-service is a finding that within 90 minutes of consuming his or her last drink at a bar or club, a patron has a blood alcohol content of 0.14 or higher (almost twice the legal blood alcohol level for driving). Though this law was on the books, no liquor licenses had ever been revoked in New Mexico based on over-service violations. In 2006, based on the recommendations of the task force, the alcohol beverage control agency changed the regulations from five violations in a one-year period to three violations in a one-year period for license revocation. This became known as the "three strikes" rule. Soon after the new rule was enacted, the alcohol beverage control law enforcement agency also increased their enforcement of over-service violations, sending undercover liquor control officers to bars and clubs to observe patrons and identify instances of over-service. As a result of these increased enforcement efforts, over-service citations increased by more than 260 percent, leading to the first liquor license revocations in New Mexico for this type of violation.