FARMINGTON — New Mexico drivers will be prohibited from using cellphones to send or view text messages while driving when a new law to prevent distracted driving goes into effect on Tuesday.
In March, Gov. Susana Martinez signed Senate Bill 19, which penalizes drivers for texting while their vehicles are in motion. The bill becomes law on Tuesday.
Drivers cited for texting while driving face a $25 fine for the first violation and $50 for subsequent violations.
The law states a person shall not read or view a text or manually type on a mobile communication device for any purpose while driving a motor vehicle, except to contact emergency help.
Farmington police Sgt. Dave Monfils said he sees a huge number of drivers texting while driving, and this law will help reduce accidents, including crashes in which vehicles are rear-ended.
Monfils conducted a study on vehicle collisions in Farmington intersections and discovered the number of collisions in which vehicles are rear-ended has increased recently. He attributes that increase to inattentive driving.
"A lot of vehicle complaints we receive about people being drunk, when we contact them, they aren't intoxicated. They are messing with their phone," Monfils said.
Since the bill was signed in March, nonprofit Safeteen New Mexico has been running an informational campaign about the dangers of distracted and inattentive driving.
The organization produced a documentary that aired on Albuquerque TV stations and created a curriculum guide to be distributed to school superintendents and PTAs across the state.
Although using a cellphone while driving is a common and often accepted practice, texting while driving can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, said Chris Schueler, executive director of Safeteen New Mexico.
"It's a huge step forward for the state, an important one," Schueler said of the new law. "This says it's a dangerous activity. Texting and driving is off the charts dangerous."
Schueler referenced a 2012 Liberty Mutual Insurance/Students Against Destructive Decisions survey in which 91 percent of teens reported seeing their parents talking on the phone and 59 percent witnessed their parents texting while driving.
Safeteen New Mexico's curriculum guide is meant to reach parents as much as teenagers, Schueler said.
"The reason it's important is because teens follow their parents' behavior," Schueler said. "Those are amazing statistics. Parents need to be aware of that."
Monfils said the Farmington Police Department will enforce the law and has plans to use unmarked police car to aid in the enforcement.
"When someone sees a police officer, they put the phone away," Monfils said. "We're going to get them and let them know, you may never know when you are next to a police officer."