On the heels of Governor Cuomo’s recent proposal to toughen penalties for distracted drivers, Daily News columnist Michael Daly published an article yesterday entitled “Texting While Driving Should Be Considered A More Serious Offense” where he proposed an interesting penalty for repeat violators of New York’s driving while distracted (DWD) law. He proposes that repeat offenders forfeit their cell phone or other electronic device. I think this is a great idea but is not enough.
Motorists caught driving while intoxicated can lose their car so it makes perfect sense that recidovist DWD drivers should lose their devices. Indeed, a recent study compared reaction times when a driver was texting to when a driver was intoxicated, and found that the reaction time while texting was even slower.
Over the last 5 years, tolerance of DWI has dropped dramatically with courts imposing harsher sentences and enactment of more stringent laws. This type of societal change needs to be created as to DWD and tougher penalties (such a civil forfeiture) provide a great start.
I think three convictions within an 18-month period would be a good rule of thumb for imposing forfeitures. Even a first-time offender will get the message when they realize that they only two more chances. Such a framework currently exists for speeding in New York with 3 speeding convictions within 18 months leading to a mandatory 6-month revocation.
Civil forfeiture nevertheless has its limits. It would not prevent someone from buying a new phone or other device, or borrowing one from a relative. Confiscation will have a deterrence effect but more is needed.
Fines should escalate with each conviction. This type of fee structure currently exists in New York City for red light violations ($250, $500, $750) and would act as a further dis-incentive to DWD. I also would like to see three convictions within an 18-month period lead to a mandatory revocation. Higher fines and loss of driving privileges would serve to augment a forfeiture. Cumulatively they would be an effective start toward changing society’s tolerance for DWD.