Last updated: September 7, 2013
Cell phone, text messaging legislation news: No distracted driving legislation was approved during New Mexico’s 2013 legislative session. Several bills cleared committee votes but none survived the session.
New Mexico is one of 11 states without a ban on text messaging by all drivers.
The Legislature returns Jan. 21, 2014.
No statewide limits on cell phones except for their use by driving students and drivers of state vehicles.
Local ordinances restrict driving while cell phoning and/or texting in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Gallup, Taos and Espanola.
Distracted driving legislation (2013):
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)
Distracted driving notes (2013):
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 distacted 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)
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.