Staff writer Theresa Juva went on a ride-along with a New York State Trooper targeting texting drivers. (Read her report here.) Not only did the trooper have quite an easy time finding potential texting law violators, he told Juva that when he stopped people, they readily admitted that they knew they were doing wrong. Then why do it?!?
The Editorial Board has lauded newer, stricter texting-while-driving laws. New York has hiked points on licenses for those who are tapping away, reading screens or performing other risky tasks behind the wheel. Next step: Drivers actually following the laws.
Here’s a June 5 editorial on the topic:
Editorial: State gets smart on road texting
Trying to read and type while cruising down Interstate 287? For taking such a ridiculous risk, it could cost you much more in fines and insurance rates. And, if you are a new driver, you could soon lose your driving privileges the first time you’re caught. That is, if you live to tell about it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the Department of Motor Vehicles to up the points penalty for drivers caught with eyes on the screen instead of the road. Now, five points will be tacked on a driver’s record, instead of three. Additionally, Cuomo instructed the New York State Police to step up enforcement — expect a summer schedule of road-checks for texting drivers, like ones seen Saturday at Thruway entrances in the Lower Hudson Valley region.
Those are good first steps to curbing the practice. But more is needed, especially to encourage people who are new behind the wheel to develop good driving habits. The state Legislature should get behind Cuomo-backed legislation toughen penalties for new drivers caught texting.
A lot of damage can occur in the span of a quick “LOL.” According to research at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds — the time it takes a car going 55 mph to travel the length of a football field.
Accidents attributed to texting jumped 143 percent between 2005 and 2011. The actual number is probably higher than that. Often, the root cause of a crash isn’t found. That almost happened after the crash that killed Evan Lieberman. The 19-year-old from Chappaqua was a passenger in a car that crashed in July 2011, after the driver said he fell asleep.
As reported in The Journal News, it took a civil lawsuit filed by Evan Lieberman’s parents to turn up the driver’s cellphone records. The family then used the data to pursue a DMV hearing, which led to a yearlong license suspension for the driver.
Administrative Law Judge Donna Marinacci ruled Michael Fiddle violated several traffic laws, including using a portable electronic device while driving, and suspended his license for one year.
As staff writer Terence Corcoran found, law enforcement can access phone records, but don’t always. “Without a witness, we usually have no way of telling. We would have to subpoena records, which can take time. Right now, it’s difficult to prove,” Mount Pleasant Police Chief Louis Alagno told Corcoran.
Evan’s father, Ben, stood with Cuomo on Friday as the governor announced his initiatives. “Most motorists know (the texting and) drunk-driving comparison and truly believe the stat,” Lieberman said. “You don’t need an academic study to prove that if you take your eyes off the road, you are more likely to crash. Yet the behavior continues and traffic casualties are increasing rather than decreasing.”
Cuomo wants texting drivers who have probationary and junior licenses to face the same penalties as they would for reckless driving. Such new drivers would have their license suspended for 60 days for the first conviction.
If a probationary license-holder gets a second violation within six months, the license would be suspended for six months; for a junior driver, the suspension would be for 60 days. Now, there is no suspension for such dangerous driving.
The increase to 5 points for texting infractions will also have impact on drivers, and their wallets — 11 points in six months usually spells a license suspension, plus fines; points push up insurance rates, too.
Sanctioning new drivers even earlier, with a temporary loss of a license, makes sense, too. New York has made other efforts to get New Yorkers to focus on the road — including making texting while driving a primary offense in 2011, meaning police could pull over a driver for the act itself; previously, police first had to have some other reason to stop the driver.
Like driving drunk
Proponents of tougher sanctions for texting while driving hope their efforts will be as successful as those against drunk driving. Tougher DWI penalties, coupled with strong public advocacya, have paid off.
Between 2011 and 2012, the number of DWI and driving while ability impaired arrests dropped by 4 percent in New York state. During the same period, tickets for texing while driving increased 234 percent.
More awareness, coupled with Cuomo’s tough measures — and the ongoing activism of the Lieberman family; Jacy Good of White Plains, who was severely injured in a 2008 cellphone-related crash that killed her parents, and others — ought to go a long way to compel all drivers, new and experienced both, to keep their thumbs glued to the wheel instead of their phones
• “It Can Wait” is an initiative to raise awareness about the dangers of texting while driving. Go to itcanwait.com to find out more
• Allstate Foundation offers a teen safe driving program. Go to allstatefoundation.org/teen-driving
to find out more.