New Mexico Distracted Driving Laws
- Handheld ban for all drivers with in-state vehicles.
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on texting for novice drivers (Primary Law).
New Mexico’s Texting While Driving Stand
Despite numerous attempts to pass distracted driver legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Antonio Lujan, D-Las Cruces, there currently is no statewide ban on cell phone use of any kind while driving in New Mexico. The only exception is for student drivers or those driving state vehicles. All other drivers, including bus drivers and train operators, are unrestricted in their use of cell phones while driving.
There are local ordinances prohibiting cell phone use and/or texting while driving in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Gallup, Taos, and Espanola, but enforcement of those ordinances appears to be weak. Mayor Ken Miyagishima in Las Cruces has taken exception to that, claiming that cell phone use while driving is down in the city since the law went into effect.
Lujan has been working for the past five years to get some form of distracted driving legislation enacted in the state of New Mexico. His efforts have met with mixed success, the latest effort being HB 197, which would only ban texting while driving.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, although they slashed the fines sought in the original submission. Lujan’s bill called for fines of $250-$100 for a first offense, $50-$1000 for a second or subsequent offense. It also included the possibility of a license suspension and jail terms ranging from five days to six months.
The substitute bill sent to the floor and approved on March 1 by the House, on a 58-7 vote, mandated a fine of only $25 for any offense. The bill was then sent to the Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it 6-0. However, the bill was never submitted to the floor for debate and it died with no action taken before the end of the legislative session.
Lujan submitted a broader bill, HB 10, during the 2010 legislative session which would have banned the use of any handheld device while driving, although hand’s free use would have been permitted. This bill, which had the support of then-Gov. Bill Richardson (who left office in early 2010, replaced by now Gov Susana Martinez), would also have banned train operators from any form of cell phone use and would have allowed bus drivers to use cell phones for official business only. The bill originally called for a fine of $250 for all violators, which was cut to $25 in committee.
The bill passed the House 35-30 on February 29, 2010, and was sent to the Senate Public Affairs Committee where it died. The same year, the Senate Judiciary Committee considered SB 89, which would have made texting while driving illegal in New Mexico. The bill was approved by the committee on February 8, 2010, but the full Senate took no action thereafter
In 2009, both the New Mexico House and the Senate considered versions of distracted driving legislation. HB 301 would have prohibited texting while operating a motor vehicle. On February 26 that year, it passed the House 35-24 and moved on to the Senate, where no action was taken. SB 341 appeared to be very similar to HB 301. Its wording called for a ban on reading, writing or sending text messages while driving. The bill was approved by the Senate 22-15 on March 5, but no action was taken on it by the House.
Currently, the effort to curb the use of cell phones while driving remains a local issue in New Mexico. Santa Fe was the first city to enact a ban in 2001. An attempt to appeal the ban was defeated in June 2008, with the City Council voting 6-2 in favor of keeping the ban.
Other cities in New Mexico followed Santa Fe’s lead, with Gallup enacting a ban in December 2008 which also includes other forms of distracted driving such as applying makeup. Espanola’s ordinance went into effect July 1, 2009, and Las Cruces’ ban was passed on December 7, 2009, and went into effect on February 4, 2010.