For two years, I have written multiple posts about the dangers of texting and other distractions while driving urging New York’s dysfunctional legislature to effectively address the problem. The dangers of a driver reading a text message or playing Angry Birds is obvious. Well, this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo got involved to finally end the ineptitude of our legislature and he’s not fooling around.
If enacted, Cuomo’s sweeping new law will heavily crack down on drivers caught using ANY portable electronic device including Blackberrys, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, Nintendo DSs, or talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. GPS navigation units and MP3 players not held in a conspicuous manner would be exempt.
In an un-precedented move, the proposed DWD law would require that violators take a Driver Safety Class. This would be the first time that a New York traffic ticket conviction would result in such a mandatory requirement. Additionally, the bill would fix the texting and driving law loophole (which I was the first to identify in 2009) by making a violation a primary offense. Finally, it would increase the points for this offense from 2 to 3, and impose a $150 fine for a first offense. If passed, this would be one of the toughest DWD laws in the country.
“Every day, countless drivers, particularly teenagers and young adults, drive with their eyes on a screen rather than the road,” Governor Cuomo said. “Distracted driving is nothing less than a lethal activity for the driver themselves, other drivers on the road, and pedestrians. We need to impose a true deterrent *** to keep our roads and citizens safe.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 16% of fatal accidents in 2009 were due to distracted driving and 20% of people injured during a crash were involved in a crash where distracted driving was reported. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of a crash or near crash, while another study compared reaction times when a driver was texting to when a driver was intoxicated, and found that the reaction time while texting was much slower. In New York City, DWD accounts for 25,000 of the more than 125,000 accidents each year, and 60 deaths annually along with 600 serious injuries.
A National Insurance study estimated 20% of all drivers, and 66% of drivers aged 18 to 24, are sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel, leaving our young drivers most vulnerable. Several fatal accidents in this state have highlighted this fact including the September 2010 accident in which a 19-year old replying to a text struck and killed a father of 3 driving a scooter, and the 2007 accident in which 7 teens were killed in suburban Rochester.