New “Texting Zones” Announced in New York

Sept. 23, 2013–New York, NY–By Jen Benepe

In his continuing drive to reduce traffic crashes due to texting, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced the addition of new stop and text zones along major highways in New York State.

The zones, many of which utilize existing rest areas, were created so that drivers who want to text, have a place to stop to do it.

The 91 zones will be marked by new blue signs that read, “It can wait: Text Stop, 5 Miles,” or “Text Stop, 1 Mile.”

Though the initiative is well-intentioned, it is unclear how well these areas will convince those most likely to text–young and inexperienced drivers–to pull over.

“Unless they put some teeth behind this legislation, it will never work,” said lawyer Bob Fader who specializes in civil traffic cases.

The new texting zones are part of an ongoing Cuomo initiative which the governor started earlier this year in response to the massive increase in texting and distracted driving.

But by all accounts, texting while driving has grown to fantastic levels.

In 2011, there were more than five times as many crashes caused by distracted drivers in New York than those caused by alcohol–25,165  versus 4,628. Forty-three percent of teenage drivers admit that they regularly text while driving, according to research by the Pediatric Academic Societies.

In May of this year, Cuomo’s office announced increased penalties for distracted driving, which includes increasing the number of points earned against an individual’s driving record from 3 to 5 points upon conviction for texting-while-driving and cell-phone related infractions.

Other legislation proposed by Cuomo has established tough new penalties for young and new drivers convicted of texting-while-driving, which are now on par with the penalties for reckless driving.

The reasons may seem obvious to cyclists, who are often struck and injured or killed by distracted drivers.

At the same time, alcohol-related driving has declined, mostly because crashes involving alcohol that result in injury or fatality can automatically become manslaughter cases. Distracted driving penalties have still not reached that level of criminality.

What’s worse, in a case where a distracted driver kills or seriously injures a cyclist or pedestrian, it’s often very difficult to get a hold of the phone records because “right now the courts are reluctant to open up peoples’ private phone calls,” said Fader.

In New York State, the number of tickets issued for texting-while-driving (30,166) approached the number of DWI/DWAI arrests (43,954) in 2012.

Proving drunk driving requires a breathlyzer to measure blood alcohol content  (BAC), a device which police often carry with them on patrol. But to obtain cell phone records will require a court order, and the judge will review them prior to making them available, said Fader, which can often take several months.

Considering that between 2011 and 2012, there was a 234% increase in the number of tickets issued for texting while driving, while in the same period there was a 4% decrease in the number of DWI/DWAI arrests, that makes arresting drivers who text still far more difficult.

But we do have a take home for you , your kids, and your grown-up “kid” friends who think texting is “OK”: Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds which is the equivalent – at 55 miles per hour – of driving the length of an entire football field while blind, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

In the past, probationary and junior licensed drivers were suspended for 60 days for violations such as speeding, reckless driving, or following too closely behind another vehicle. Revocation lasted 6 months (for probationary licenses) or 60 days (for junior licenses) if there was another violation within 6 months of the license being restored.

The new law imposes the same penalties for texting-while-driving that they now receive for speeding and reckless driving: 60-day suspensions for first convictions and revocations of 60 days (for junior licenses) or 6 months (for probationary licenses) for subsequent convictions within 6 months of the time a license is restored after suspension.

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