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          Front Page




City Councilors Vote 5-4 to Restrict Use of Devices

By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
    Albuquerque city councilors don't want you dialing from the driver's seat any longer.
    The council voted 5-4 in favor of an ordinance that would prohibit drivers from talking on a cell phone, except in emergencies or if they're using a "hands-free" device.
    Police, firefighters and other public-safety officials can continue to use cell phones if it's work-related. The measure was sponsored jointly by Councilors Isaac Benton and Ken Sanchez, both of whom say they've nearly been hit by drivers districted by phones.
    In support of the ban were Benton, Michael Cadigan, Martin Heinrich, Debbie O'Malley and Sanchez. Voting against it were Don Harris, Craig Loy, Sally Mayer and Brad Winter.
    The bill "is a message you need to exercise a higher level of attention while driving," Benton said. The proposal now goes to Mayor Martin Chávez for his consideration. A top mayoral official said Chávez has no position on the measure.
    Drivers who violate the ban would be subject to an initial fine of $100 and $200 for subsequent violations.
    Benton and Sanchez said police can use discretion in deciding when to cite people for talking on the phone.
    Opponents of the measure said it's already illegal to drive carelessly. They also said that police have more important crimes to investigate and that more study needs to be done.
    Mayer said that eating while driving, putting on makeup or yelling at your children can also be distracting but those activities aren't specifically written into the law.
    "It will be an enforcement nightmare," Mayer said. "We already have careless driving laws."
    Talking on a hands-free device may be just as bad as using a hand-held device, Mayer said. It's wrong for the city to give people the impression that using a hands-free device is safe, she said.
    A study published by the British Medical Journal found that drivers using cell phones were four times as likely to get into a crash that could cause serious injuries, according to The Associated Press. The study said both hands-free and regular cell phones increased the risk.
    Supporters of Monday's bill said it's a step in the right direction.
    "The streets are unsafe because there are too many people using cell phones," Sanchez said.
    Municipal offices are nonpartisan, but Monday's vote was a rare straight-party vote. All five of the supporters are Democrats, and the four opponents are Republicans. It would take six votes to override a mayoral veto.
    Santa Fe has had a ban in place since 2002, but police there say it has been hard to get people to obey the law. The City Different issued 2,141 citations for violating the cell phone ordinance during a recent one-year period.
    Cadigan introduced a series of amendments to tighten the bill. They all passed, including rules prohibiting typing text messages while driving.