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NM kicks off campaign against distracted driving

During the statewide "U Drive, U Text, U Pay" campaign, police officers will step up efforts to ticket distracted drivers. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

During the statewide “U Drive, U Text, U Pay” campaign, police officers will step up efforts to ticket distracted drivers. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Distracted driving is impaired driving and, if you’re texting, you’re not driving.

Those were the messages conveyed over and over during the Friday morning Civic Plaza kickoff of the “U Drive, U Text, U Pay” campaign.

The statewide awareness campaign, which runs through April 15, is being funded by a $200,000 grant from the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and is partnering with law enforcement agencies around the state.

Noting that April is National Distracted Driving Month, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said there have been incidents from coast to coast in which “distracted driving has caused tragedies.” These incidents, he said, “can all be prevented.”

If people are still not getting the message about the dangers of texting and driving, Berry said, they may hear it loud and clear “if they get stopped and get a ticket, and it costs them something out of their wallet.”

Under state law, it is illegal to text message while driving. First time violators face a fine of $25, but municipalities have enacted anti driving and texting ordinances that often have stiffer fines. In Albuquerque, a first-time fine is $100.

During the campaign, law enforcement officers will step up their efforts to spot violators, pull them over and ticket them. (Driving while talking on a cellphone with a hands-free device, or using a GPS device are both legal in New Mexico).

The mayor also encouraged parents and children to open a dialogue about distracted driving and cautioned parents to not engage in this dangerous practice because their children will emulate that behavior.

Putting the danger in perspective, William Roseman, deputy chief of the Albuquerque Police Department, said that, if a person is driving at 50 mph and looks down at a cellphone for just one second, “by the time you look back up at the road, you will have traveled over 80 feet.” Extend that distraction to five seconds and “you will have traveled the length of a football field.”

Roughly 60 percent of all accidents in Albuquerque, he said, are the result of “some kind of distracted driving, whether it’s texting, talking to people in the car or reaching back for something.”

Jimmy Glascock, deputy chief of the New Mexico State Police, said that distracted driving is the “leading cause of rural highway crashes in New Mexico.” The practice is so prevalent that the State Police, working with law enforcement agencies in the Albuquerque area, conducted an operation recently in which more than 40 citations were issued just for texting and driving.

Of course, distracted driving can also include driving while holding and talking on a cellphone, having a loud and animated conversation with others in the vehicle, eating, drinking, smoking, putting on makeup and pretty much any activity that diverts a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving, Glascock said.

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