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Texting ban goes into effect today

Senior writer

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If you didn’t know about the texting while driving ban going into effect today in New Mexico, you have about two to three weeks to get accustomed before the Clovis police start cracking down.

Sgt. Daron Roach with the Clovis Police Department said that’s about the amount of time it takes for people to get familiar with a new law.

“We’ll spend the first two to three weeks just issuing warnings on it to educate people that it’s not OK anymore to do this,” Roach said.

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Under the new law, drivers are prohibited from sending or reading text message and emails — even while at a stop light or temporarily stuck in a traffic jam.

Motorists also will be banned from searching the Internet on smartphones or other hand-held wireless devices. However, the law does allow a driver to pull over to the side of the road to send or receive a text message.

A first violation will carry a $25 fine, and it’s a $50 fine for subsequent violations.

Roach and Portales Police Chief Pat Gallegos say they have not received any correspondence or formal training from the State about the new law.

“It’s just like anything that comes down from Santa Fe, in our neck of New Mexico, we’re the last to know,” Roach said.

He, however, said most officers are aware of the issue and have been discussing the new law. Roach said officers have seen motorists text while driving, which has resulted in a few minor accidents.

He said a state statute that addresses careless driving is one officers have enforced to address texting while driving.

“It’s specific to not giving your 100 percent to the roadway,” Roach said. “(The new law’s) just more specific to typing on a hand-held device.”

Roach said there will be no specialized enforcement for the new law, but he anticipates the department receiving a grant later this year to target texting drivers.

It terrifies 21-year-old Taylor Hill when he’s a passenger in his friend’s vehicle while he texts and drives.

“I have a friend who uses his phone while driving and he swerves a lot,” said Hill, a pre-medical student at Eastern New Mexico University from Edgewood. “It freaks me out.”

Hill is doubtful the new law will act as a deterrent for those distracted drivers looking up restaurants on the web or scrolling through their Facebook feeds.

Hill feels this law will probably affect teenagers most but he knows people of all ages have been guilty of checking their phones while driving.

Hill said it’s a habit he doesn’t have but he doesn’t think the law will make a dent in the number of accidents caused by distracted driving.

“There’s other distractions, like eating while driving,” Hill said. “I don’t think this law is going to stop anything. You might affect a few people but not enough to make a difference.”

The state previously prohibited texting by teenage drivers with a learner’s or provisional license. The new law extends the ban to all drivers.

New Mexico joins 43 other states and the District of Columbia in banning text messaging by all drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

There are exceptions in New Mexico’s law, such as sending a text message to summon medical or emergency aid. Drivers also can use a voice-operated or hands-free device for sending a text message.

The law doesn’t apply to navigation or global positioning systems in a vehicle.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.