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Texting measure heads to governor

MARTINEZ: Measure awaits her signature

MARTINEZ: Measure awaits her signature

SANTA FE, N.M. — A bill banning texting while driving in New Mexico is headed to the governor’s desk for final approval after passing the House with little debate on Tuesday.

The legislation, Senate Bill 19, would allow law enforcement officers to stop drivers who appear to be texting, reading or writing on their mobile devices while driving or stopped in traffic. Drivers could be cited with a $25 fine for the first offense and a $50 ticket for subsequent incidents.

The House on Tuesday voted 62-1 to adopt the driving-while-texting ban with little debate on the issue. Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, was the only vote in opposition. Earlier this month, the Senate voted 37-5 to adopt the new rules.

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The ban is intended to increase safety on the state’s roadways, where texting while driving has become prevalent. Lawmakers have repeatedly cited national statistics that suggest motorists who text or read from their cellphones while driving are 23 times more likely to cause an accident.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s office suggested Tuesday that she expects to sign the bill into law.

“Gov. Martinez is encouraged that New Mexico will join most other U.S. states in banning texting while driving,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said. “Texting while driving is a lethal distraction. There is no text message that is worth a person’s life. Distracted drivers pose a serious danger to fellow motorists on New Mexico’s streets, roads and highways, especially among our youth.”

If signed by the governor, the New Mexico texting and driving ban would take effect July 1.

Rep. Jim Smith, R-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he expects New Mexicans will welcome the change.

“I would say probably 90 percent of the people in the state would want to see some kind of legislation that would prohibit texting,” Smith said.

The ban would not prohibit drivers from texting to report an emergency condition on the roads or texting through use of a hands-free, voice-activated device. Drivers also would be allowed to text while safely parked on the side of the road.

Addressing privacy concerns raised in the Senate, the bill was amended in that chamber to prohibit law enforcement officers from seizing a driver’s mobile device to prove a text message was being sent at the time of the traffic stop.

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Similar legislation has been considered by the Legislature in recent years but failed to clear the Senate.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the final version benefited from debate and revision over several legislative sessions, such as the added protection for drivers shielded from having phones taken by police.

But the texting-while-driving ban would require New Mexico drivers to stop a practice that’s become commonplace on the state’s roadways, Wirth said.

“We’ve all become so accustomed to this extraordinary technology, (but) the other side of technology is how dangerous it can be,” Wirth said. “There’s going to be a learning process for everybody. … We’re all going to have to change, which is a good thing. It will save lives.”

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