Texting and driving ban starts today


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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 ban on texting while driving taking effect today in New Mexico will act as a deterrent for those distracted drivers looking up restaurants on the web or scrolling through their Facebook feeds.link

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.

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.”

Portales Police Chief Pat Gallegos says with any law, this ban will make drivers more aware of their distracted driving habits.

Though Gallegos said the department hasn’t received any correspondence about this law from the State and officers have not been given any specific training, he said officers can spot phone use like any other violation.

“They’ll be looking at the inattentiveness in a driver,” Gallegos said. “We see it, but if they’re that inattentive to the road, we pull them over for careless driving. Now it’s more of a specific statute.”

He added drivers can contest any violation they’re fined for if they feel they are not in the wrong.

“It’s a good law, it helps prevent deaths,” Gallegos said.

He suggested drivers use hands-free devices to prevent any distractions or use phone applications that switch the phone into silent mode while driving.

“This law will save lives and make New Mexico roads safer,” said Sen. Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat who sponsored the measure in the Legislature. “New Mexicans need to understand that texting while driving is six times more dangerous than drinking and driving. If you have to look at your phone, pull off the road.”

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 report.


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