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Martinez signs texting-while-driving bill

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former East Mountain High School student James Clarke was driving to the house of his biology teacher, Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, to help him with his campaign when he reached for his phone in the passenger seat, and flipped his car in the few seconds he wasn’t looking at the road.

“I called him from the back of the ambulance; it was terrifying,” Clarke said. “It’s one of those things you do so often and then all the sudden you’re upside down.”

Although Clarke had no life-threatening injuries, Smith said that’s what compelled him to introduce legislation with Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, that would ban texting while driving. Gov. Susana Martinez signed the bill into law Sunday at the Office of the Medical Investigator, making New Mexico the 42nd state to enact a distracted driver law.

Martinez said the bill-signing was held at the OMI – which does autopsies for every sudden, violent or unexpected death in the state – because it’s a sober reminder that distracted driving can lead to death.

“I think it’s important to be here, because when people are distracted in their driving, often you can be involved in a crash that can be very serious, and this seems to be an appropriate place to let people know this is where you can end up,” Martinez said. “No parent, no spouse, no child should have to walk through these doors to identify a loved one because of an accident that was completely preventable.”

In 2012, 3,328 died in from distracted driving crashes across the nation according to Martinez, and she said a study from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a “critical safety issue.” Martinez said texting while driving is the leading cause of death for New Mexico teen drivers.

The law not only bans texting – it prohibits looking at written content on a cellphone while driving, even if one does it stopped at a red light. A first offense will cost the offender $25, while subsequent citations will cost $50. But mobile users will still be able to send messages via a hands-free device, or use a GPS tool.

“Texting while driving can be more dangerous than drunk driving,” Martinez said. “There is no text, no Facebook message, no tweet that is worth a person’s life. All of that can wait. We don’t want to start giving out citations to someone heading down I-25 texting their friend that they’re going to the mall. Nobody cares.”

Martinez said that with new technological advances comes greater responsibility. We’re no longer in the era of “Maxwell Smart,” the governor said, a reference to the comedic spy who had a phone in his shoe.

“As we acknowledge advances, we must always remember our responsibility to keep our roads and communities safe for our families and children, and for others on the roadway,” she said. “We’re already distracted when we drive … and then you throw in a telephone, that can wait because nothing is that urgent.”

Department of Transportation Cabinet Secretary Tom Church unveiled a new commercial encouraging people to not text and drive, as well as a smart phone application that holds texts when activated and sends an automated response to the texter saying that the recipient is busy driving.