Questions surround texting while driving ban

SANTA FE (KRQE) – A bill banning texting while driving in New Mexico is sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting a signature, and KRQE News 13 has learned wording in the ban doesn’t allow an officer to seize or even look at drivers’ cellphones when they’re pulled over.

So could it be easier for drivers to get out of a citation?

Police throughout the state say they will be on the lookout for distracted drivers.

“We’re gonna be looking for people with their phones held in their hands, obviously not paying attention to the road,” said Damyan Brown of the New Mexico State Police.

The bill proposed by democratic Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, passed with an overwhelming majority this session.

Governor Susana Martinez is expected to sign it into law.

“All of us need to adjust the temptation of hearing that phone ring or buzz or vibrate. It’s become the way we communicate,” said Sen. Wirth.

But if drivers are caught texting and driving, in some cases, police may have trouble proving it. The bill says officers can’t look at phones or take them away due to privacy concerns.

“It’s always a balance, but this is one that there was enough concern about that we felt we needed that to be part of the law,” said Wirth.

An officer can still catch drivers on lapel video or testify that he or she saw the person texting.

However, if a bad accident injures, or even kills someone, that’s a different story.

“If there was a suspicion that texting while driving was a part of it or was a cause of it, the officer as part of the investigation would seize the cellphone and complete a search warrant,” said Brown.

In any case, lawmakers and police hope the new law will start a trend for drivers to keep their eyes on the road and off their phones.

Sen. Wirth said lawmakers didn’t want police to be able to take phones and have access to drivers’ personal information, such as emails.

Drivers caught texting while driving would face a $25 fine for the first offense and $50 for a second.

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