LC Bulletin: Cell phone ban begins

February 5, 2010. Retrieved online: February 5, 2010 from TODD G. DICKSON, Las Cruces Bulletin

Council curbs fines for phone use while driving

With the new cell phone ban about to start Friday, Feb. 5, the Las Cruces City Council lowered the potential fine for the first two times drivers are cited for using cell phones.

Two months ago, the council approved a new ordinance that prohibits cell phone use while driving within city limits – be it making a cell phone call, talking on a cell phone or creating, sending or reading text messages and emails. Handsfree devices for cell calls are allowed under the new restriction.

The new law was an enhancement of an existing ordinance for distracted driving, which carries a maximum fine of $500 and 90 days in jail.

Because that punishment was perceived as being harsh, councillors on Tuesday, Feb. 2, revisited the new ordinance to set up a system that set fines for the first two times a driver is cited for violating the new law.

After much discussion, councillors decided on a fixed fine of $25 for the first offense and $50 for the second offense. On the third and subsequent offenses, drivers could face a fine of $500 or 90 days in jail – or both. At that level, municipal judges would have the discretion to decide the penalty based on the seriousness of the offense.

Councillor Nathan Small and others wanted to make the new driving ban something akin to getting a speeding ticket so that drivers didn’t have to make an appearance at Municipal Court for every citation.

Because drivers could face jail time by the third offense and the scaled approach to fines, city legal officials told councillors that the appearance at municipal court was unavoidable.

“For most municipal violations, you have to go before a judge,” said City Attorney Fermin Rubio. “It’s just part of living in the city.”

Read the article.

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