A texting law with some teeth

While I don’t ordinarily quote song lyrics in this space, I will say that The Doors may have said it best in the song Roadhouse Blues which includes the opening line – “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”  While Jim Morrison wasn’t singing about texting while driving, the phrase certainly applies.

Among the important safety edicts that received approval in the closing days of the 2011 legislative session was a bill that will make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on texting while driving offenders and prevent tragic accidents caused by drivers distracted by this growing communication method.

The legislation elevates text messaging while driving to a primary violation rather than a secondary violation. Under the current law, a driver can only be cited for texting while driving if another violation, such as speeding, is also being cited. If signed into law by the governor, the new legislation will allow police to stop anyone they believe is texting,  or even reading an electronic message, on his phone or other similar device.



The American Automobile Association (AAA) of New York is among the supporters of the legislation. According to studies done by AAA, any activity that takes a driver’s attention off the road for more than two seconds can double a driver’s risk of a crash. The huge increase in text messaging as a form of communication, particularly among young people, has led to a new form of distracted driving which is being blamed for tragedies throughout New York State and the nation. In 2009, more than 5,500 people were killed in car accidents involving distracted drivers nationwide.

 The list of tragic distracted driving crashes that have occurred here in New York in recent years is extensive.

 

June 26, 2007, Fairport, Monroe County: Five teenagers who had just graduated from Fairport High School were killed when the SUV they were in veered into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. The driver’s cell phone had sent and received text messages moments before the crash.

 

December 3, 2007, West Seneca, Erie County: 20 year-old old A.J. Larson was killed in a car crash. He was reportedly text messaging when he rolled through a stop sign and was hit by a truck. Since his death, his mother, Kelly Klein, has been on a mission calling for stricter penalties when it comes to distracted driving.

 

November 30, 2009, Huron, Wayne County: A woman was killed when she veered into the path of a truck while she was texting, according to police.

 

April 2010: SUNY Geneseo student Mary Kavanaugh, 22, was killed when she veered off the road and flipped her car. Authorities believe she was text messaging while driving.

 

February 2011: A Baldwinsville Central School bus driver was accused of reading text messages while driving students. The driver’s route called for driving students from kindergarten through 5th grade. The driver was ultimately not charged since texting while driving is a secondary offense.

 

Along with strengthening the current texting while driving law, the legislation also provides for an educational component in the licensing process geared toward conveying the dangers of distracted driving to new drivers.

I have long supported additional training and education for young, inexperienced drivers. In 2008, legislation I sponsored created an advisory panel on driver education availability and curriculum enhancement, in order to improve the quality and availability of driver education in New York State. The texting while driving educational component is another step toward making our young people safer drivers and, ultimately, protecting all motorists.

Typing on a keypad rather than watching the road can have deadly consequences. Elevating the act of text messaging while driving to a primary offense sends the right message and will allow law enforcement officials to crack down on violators making the roads safer for all of us.

           

Senator Seward’s office web site is www.senatorjimseward.com.

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