Last updated: September 6, 2014
Cell phone, text messaging legislation news: New Mexico’s ban on text messaging while driving is now in full effect. Fines are $25 for a first offense, then $50. The distracted driving law, which became effective July 1, 2014, outlaws typing on handheld mobile devices and use of web sites. Cell phone calls remain legal. State police say they stopped and cited 55 motorists for violations as of mid-September. That includes a dozen warnings.
Gov. Martinez said texting while behind the wheel is the leading cause of death for New Mexico’s teen drivers. “There is no text message that is worth a person’s life,” she said upon signing the act. “Distracted drivers pose a serious danger to fellow motorists on our streets, roads, and highways, especially among our youth.”
The texting & driving measure, SB 19, cleared the Senate Feb. 7, with only five lawmakers opposed. The House approval came in a near-unanimous vote of 62-1, on Feb. 18.
Wirth calls people who are texting “very dangerous drivers.” “As this technology becomes more and more pervasive, all of us are dealing with drivers who are texting,” he says. The bill allows GPS use and hands-free texting.
New Mexico becomes the 42nd state to ban text messaging by all drivers.
- Texting & typing on handheld mobile devices (including web site use) prohibited for all drivers.
- New Mexico has a law against driving without “full time and entire attention” to operation of the vehicle.
- Local ordinances restrict driving while cell phoning and/or texting in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Gallup, Taos and Espanola.
Distracted driving fine: Up to $50.
Distracted driving legislation (2014):
Senate Bill 19 Would ban texting and other typing on wireless communications devices. Also “image communication” and web site use by drivers. Prohibitions apply to temporary stops such as traffic lights. Permits use of GPS and in-dash interactive systems. Fines: $25 (first offense), then $50. Prohibits police from seizing cell phones. Approved by the Senate Public Affairs Committee in a 7-0 vote of Jan. 29. Approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 7-1 vote of Feb. 3. Approved by the full Senate in a 37-5 vote of Feb. 7. Approved by the House Transportation and Public Works Committee on Feb. 13. Approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote of Feb. 17. Approved by the House in a 62-1 vote of Feb. 18. Signed into law by the governor March 2. Took effect July 1, 2014. (Wirth)
Distracted driving notes (2014):
Santa Fe has doubled its fine for texting and related use of the Internet while driving, with fines starting at $200. For drivers caught texting in school zones, the penalty triples to $300. The City Council, responding to reports that the existing distracted driving ordinance was begin ignored, voted unanimously to toughen the local law. About 300 tickets were handed out last year, many in school zones, the New Mexican reported Aug. 13.
Rio Rancho’s city commissioners have voted to ban use of handheld electronic devices by drivers in city limits. The fine would be $50, which applies to texting as well. The inclusion of texting apparently means the city would see fine revenues from that offense, instead of the state.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez has not been supportive of distracted driving legislation. His was the only committee vote against Sen. Peter Wirth’s texting bill and one of five to oppose it before the full Senate. Among the reasons given by Sanchez for opposing more distracted driving regulation: “It’s a traffic violation now, but what I have seen happen to certain traffic violations is they end up becoming misdemeanors and then they eventually end up becoming felonies,” Sanchez said in a late January interview with the AP. He also cited privacy concerns.
The Las Cruces Sun-News editorialized Feb. 6: “(Sen.) Sanchez has established a well-earned reputation for opposing all variety of law enforcement measures. His opposition to this common-sense bill (SB 19) has put lives in danger.”
The Albuquerque Journal editorialized Feb. 1: “We don’t understand how anyone can seriously argue that texting while driving is safe and doesn’t need to be illegal. It’s hard to believe even one of our legislators would vote against a ban on texting while driving. … Enforcement will be difficult, and people will not change their habits easily. But we must start somewhere.”
Gov. Susana Martinez will sign off on any successful legislation that outlaws text messaging while driving, KRQE reported in December 2013. Her office has said the lack of a texting law costs the state millions in highway funding.
2013 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 43: Would prohibit texting while driving in New Mexico. Would bar drivers under 18 years of age from using personal wireless communications devices while driving. Primary offense. Fines: $25 (first offense), then $50. Substituted and approved by the Transportation Committee on Feb. 14. Action postponed indefinitely by the Judiciary Committee and dead for the year. (J. Smith)
HB 560: Seeks to ban texting by drivers of commercial vehicles. Primary enforcement. Fines: $25 (first offense), then $50. 30-day disqualification from commercial driving (first offense), then 120 days. Action postponed indefinitely by the Judiciary Committee and dead for the year. (Gallegos)
Senate Bill 17: Would prohibit texting while driving. Fines: $25 (first offense), then $50. Approved by the Public Affairs Committee in a 7-1 vote of Jan. 30. Substituted and approved by the Judiciary Committee in a 6-2 vote of Feb. 19. Action postponed indefinitely and dead for the year.(Wirth)
2013 distracted driving notes:
No distracted driving legislation was approved during New Mexico’s 2013 legislative session, although several bills cleared committee votes.
Alamogordo continues to circle a distracted driving ordinance. The City Council has worked with several plans, including the latest, which would ban texting and using handheld cell phones while driving. The proposed ordinance, initially approved April 23, is nearly identical to one approved in March but rewritten to exempt emergency workers.
2011 distracted driving notes:
Las Cruces’ ban on handheld cell phone use while driving went into effect in February 2010. As of April 2011, almost 1,100 drivers received tickets for violations. The Las Cruces Sun-News pointed out in an editorial that the total number of distracted driving citations translated to fewer than three tickets a day: “That’s pretty dismal enforcement. … All you have to do is ride around town for a while and count the number of drivers you see who have phones glued to their ears.” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he saw a reduction in cell phone use, however. “I knew when we put in the ordinance we weren’t going to have 100 percent compliance,” he told the Sun-News.
State Rep. Antonio Lujan tried again in 2011 with the distracted driving measure HB 197. “I have introduced this bill for a few years now because I find it to be an important public safety measure,” he said. “This will ultimately save lives.” The bill found success in the House but not in the Senate, where it died late in the session.
Lujan, D-Las Cruces, has been working for distracted driving legislation for at least five years, including last year’s kitchen-sink HB 10 (below), which was approved by the House and backed by the governor. This year he’s looking for success with a plan that’s limited to texting: “This is a simple, straightforward bill,” he says of HB 197.
“I haven’t given up on a bill to ban cell phones,” Lujan said after the House vote to approve his HB 197.
The original punishments for texting while driving in HB 197 were $25-$100 (first offense), $50-$1,000 (second). Possibility of jail time ranging from five days to six months. Possible license suspension.
2011 distracted driving legislation:
House Bill 197 (substitute): Seeks to ban text messaging while driving. Fine: $25. House Judiciary Committee created and approved this substitute bill that slashed the original bill’s fines. The substitute bill was approved by the House in a 58-7 vote on March 1 and sent to the Senate, where it was approved by the Judiciary Committee in a 6-0 vote on March 17. Current status: “Action postponed indefinitely,” meaning bill died in Senate. (Lujan)
Senate Bill 9: Added use of mobile communications devices to traffic violations for novice drivers under age 18. Signed into law by the governor.
2010 legislation (dead):
HB 10: Would ban handheld cell phone use by drivers, text messaging and similar wireless communications. Hands-free operation OK. Train operators banned from all cell phone use. School bus operators cannot use cell phones except for official business. Fines for drivers $25. Approved by the House in a 35-30 vote on Feb. 9, 2010 and sent to the Senate Public Affairs Committee. (Lujan, Garcia)
2010 legislation notes:
Gov. Bill Richardson has called distracted drivers “a menace to our streets.” (He left office in early 2010, replaced by Susana Martinez.)
Richardson backed HB 10, which would ban use of handheld wireless communications devices for all drivers. “We’ve all seen drivers swerving around the road while talking on the phone and texting, putting the safety and lives of New Mexicans in danger,” Richardson said Dec. 15.
Violators under HB 10 would have been fined $250 in the original bill, but that was cut to $25 in committee.
SB 341: Would ban reading, writing and sending text messages while driving. (Appears identical to HB 301.) Approved by the Senate on March 5 and sent to the House.
2009 legislation notes:
Rep. Lujan introduced HB 301, which would outlaw text messaging while operating a motor vehicle. The bill was approved in the House on a 35-24 vote but did not advance in the Senate. It called for a $100 fine per violation, high for the state. “(Texting while behind the wheel) seems to be much more hazardous and becoming more and more prevalent,” Lujan said.
Sen. Lynda Lovejoy, D-Crownpoint, authored the Senate version of the text messaging legislation. “I have young adult children, and I have a whole slew of nieces and nephews, and when I travel with them it is very frightening when they use their text messaging,” she said. The bill was approved in the Senate on a 22-15 vote.
Local cell phone/texting laws:
Bosque Farms’ city council and mayor are considering a draft ordinance that would outlaw text messaging and the use of handheld cell phones while driving. After changes penciled in on a Dec. 22, 2010, working session, a vote is expected in early 2011.
Las Cruces’ ban on text messaging and use of handheld cell phones hasn’t made much of an impact, apparently. The Sun-News reports the law “is being blatantly and flagrantly ignored.” The newspaper’s editorial writer asks, “Why isn’t this law being enforced? … Drivers all over the city are motoring around with cell phones firmly pressed against their ears.”
The Las Cruces distracted driving ordinance went into effect Feb. 4, 2010. The City Council approved the plan Dec. 7, 2009.
Espanola’s ban on drivers’ use of handheld cell phones is in effect as of July 1, 2009. Police chief Julian Gonzales had this advice for citizens: “Stay off the phone, quit texting, drive your vehicle, pull over if you have to.”
The Gallup city council voted Dec. 11, 2008, to punish distracted driving resulting from text messaging, cell phones, applying make-up, etc.
Santa Fe’s local ban on use of hand-held cell phones while driving survived an attempted repeal on June 9, 2008. Councilors voted 6-2 to keep the ordinance, first enacted in 2001. The city is averaging 124 tickets a month, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger wants to hike the fine from $100 to $500: “We should experiment with expanding this law, not retracting it,” she said. Other councilors said they would support extending the ban to all use of cell phones while driving, including those with hands-free devices.
The Legislature considered a ban on cell phone use without a hands-free device in 2006, but the legislation failed to clear committee.