Bill would add New York to list of states banning ‘texting’ while driving

| 7/29/2009

Could texting while driving soon meet the same fate as driving under the influence? New York may be joining a growing list of states across the country are doing their best to forbid the use of the devices for reading, typing and sending text messages when traveling roadways.

This year more than half a dozen states have decided to outlaw the practice. Colorado recently became the fourteenth state to ban the practice of operating a motor vehicle while giving your thumbs a work out typing away.

A group of U.S. Senate Democrats have their eyes on pushing even more states to adopt texting bans. Legislation unveiled in Congress on Wednesday, July 29, would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while driving or do without 25 percent of their federal highway funds.

The legislation is patterned after the federal requirement used to get states to adopt stricter drunken driving rules to secure funding.

Acting before the federal enticement was unveiled, the New York Senate recently voted 56-1 to approve the state’s own ban. The bill, which also includes restrictions on young drivers, has moved to Gov. David Paterson’s desk for his signature. Assembly lawmakers already approved it.

Intended to help reduce a contributing factor to distracted driving, violations would be a secondary offense – meaning drivers would face $150 tickets if they are pulled over for another reason.

Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using the devices while driving have intensified in recent months. A study released this week by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is likely to fuel more efforts to quell usage of the technology. Researchers found that drivers are more than 23 times as likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel.

The researchers studied truck drivers for 18 months to come up with their findings. But the results generally applied to all drivers.

Critics say enforcement could be difficult. Police would have to pull alongside a moving vehicle and stay there long enough to determine that the driver is texting and not entering a phone number into a cell phone before pulling them over.

New York already makes it against the law to talk on a cell phone while driving. However, dialing the number is not a violation. With the governor’s signature, the texting ban would take effect Nov. 1.

Also included in the comprehensive bill, which is intended to improve safety on roadways, are additional restrictions on junior drivers. They are required to hold a learner’s permit for at least six months with 50 hours of supervised driving – up from the current 20 hours. It requires 15 of those practice driving hours to be after sunset.

New drivers also would be limited to carrying one nonfamily passenger under age 21. State law now allows for two.

Studies have shown a dramatic increase in fatal crashes in vehicles driven by teens with teen passengers.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New York in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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