There are more than 45,000 car accidents every year in New Mexico. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.
That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is any activity that takes a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.
Most people think only about cell phones when they think of distracted driving. This is because many state laws focus entirely on this small piece of the distraction puzzle.
But there are several other common distractions that, although legal, should be avoided or minimized as much as possible, including:
Eating and drinking
Fixing hair, applying makeup, and other grooming
Reading or watching videos
Viewing maps, a GPS, or another navigation system
Adjusting the seat, radio or temperature controls
Having conversations with passengers
Distracted Driving Statistics in New Mexico
You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in New Mexico:
In 2017, New Mexico averaged one distracted driving accident every 56 minutes.
The top contributing factors in crashes in this state are:
Driver inattention / distractions (20%)
Failure to yield right of way (14%)
Following too closely (12%)
In 2017 there were 9,386 vehicle accidents caused by driver distractions.
In that same year, there were 2,190 accidents caused by drunk driving.
Does New Mexico Have Laws against Distracted Driving?
New Mexico currently prohibits:
Typing on a mobile device – this includes text messaging, emailing, or entering information into a website
Viewing text-based messages
The use of handheld cell phones and other portable communication devices while driving
Teen and novice drivers who hold learner’s permits or intermediate licenses from all use of portable electronic devices, even when in hands-free mode.
And there's a general distracted driving law that makes it illegal to drive without devoting your “full time and entire attention” to the operation of the vehicle.
Be aware that some cities in this state have made handheld cell phone use illegal for all drivers. Their laws supersede those of the state. These cities include:
New Mexico compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions
Currently, every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona. But once 2021 rolls around and Arizona's law comes into effect, Montana will be the only state left.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Distracted Driving Laws in New Mexico?
New Mexico does make exceptions to its distracted driving laws, including:
The use of GPS or other navigation systems is permitted.
Touching the screen of devices that are physically or electronically integrated into the vehicle is permitted.
Text messaging is permitted when it's performed in voice-operated hands-free mode.
Handheld cell phone use by teen, novice, and commercial vehicle drivers is permitted when the driver is using the device to summon medical or emergency assistance.
New Mexico Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance
Is texting while driving legal?
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?
Is handheld device use permitted?
Any special restriction for young drivers?
Is headphone/headset use permitted?
* Except for drivers of commercial vehicles
Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in New Mexico?
Yes. And no.
Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone.
So, what happens if a police officer in New Mexico sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? Well, that depends.
There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state. However, the law does make it illegal to drive without your full attention on the vehicle.
This means that whether you are cited is at the discretion of the police officer who saw you eating. In most cases, as long as you're properly maintaining full control of the vehicle, nothing will happen.
However, if you swerve or drive erratically while eating, you could be cited for careless driving, a misdemeanor in New Mexico. Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors or in the parking lot.
What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?
Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.
Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.
New Mexico uses primary enforcement.
This means that even if you're in total control of your vehicle while using your phone, if a police officer sees you doing so, they can pull you over and write up a citation.
What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in New Mexico?
The penalties for a distracted driving citation in New Mexico are currently some of the lowest in the country. And you can expect:
For a first offense: $25
For a second or subsequent offense: $50
Commercial vehicle drivers who receive a citation may be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for life.
New Mexico’s fines for distracted driving compared to surrounding states
You'll want to be especially sure to keep your phone out of reach while driving through Colorado!
Keep in mind that the amount you'll be expected to pay is actually higher than the fine amount. Once court costs and administrative fees are added, a $25 ticket can turn into a $50 expense.
Does a Distracted Driving Citation in New Mexico Increase Insurance Rates?
If you're pulled over and cited for texting while driving and don't have an accompanying moving violation, there's a chance your insurance company won't know. But if your distraction caused you to run a stop sign, drive erratically, or cause an accident, you can bet your insurer will know about it.
In this state, insurance rates following a distracted driving citation go up an average of $312 a year. That’s $26 a month less you’ll have to spend, all because you couldn’t wait to send that text. You need to ask yourself, is it really worth it?
And if you have a safe driver discount, you can say goodbye to that. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, causing your rate increase to be even more painful.
What If I Drive into Another State?
Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.
None of the states that share a border with New Mexico have a statewide ban on handheld phone use (though if you're in Texas, you better put your phone down in active school zones), so you should be fine if you drive over the NM border.
But if you do a cross-country drive, you're likely to drive through states where handheld devices are illegal and fines for violations are high.
What's New Mexico Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?
New Mexico’s DNTXT campaign reminds residents of the dangers of distracted driving through TV ads, billboards, and other materials. Unfortunately, this state’s low fines for distracted driving violations don't serve as much of a deterrent. They also don't provide a lot of incentive for law enforcement to write citations.
House Bill 109, which was sponsored by representatives Bill Rehm, Patricia Roybal Caballero, and Matthew McQueen, sought to remedy this by increasing the penalties for a violation. The bill passed unanimously in the state House, but has been postponed indefinitely.
So What Can You Do?
Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.