New York bans ‘texting’ while driving

| 9/1/2009

New York is the latest state to move to prevent drivers from being distracted while at the wheel.

Gov. David Paterson signed into law legislation – A8568 – that forbids the use of mobile devices for reading, typing and sending text messages when traveling roadways. The law, which also includes restrictions on young drivers, takes effect Nov. 1.

“The risks associated with texting while driving are well-documented,” Paterson said in a statement. “As we learn more and more about just how dangerous this practice can be, I urge all New Yorkers to drive with caution and get in the habit of putting their cell phones away while driving to protect their own lives and the lives of others.”

With the governor’s signature, New York becomes the 18th state to outlaw the practice of operating a motor vehicle while giving your thumbs a workout. More than a dozen states have acted this year alone with bans in Illinois, Oregon and New Hampshire slated to take effect Jan. 1.

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

New York already makes it against the law to talk on a cell phone while driving. However, dialing the number is not a violation.

Attempts nationwide to curb the practice of using the devices for texting while driving have intensified in recent months. A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has already fueled increased interest in efforts to put a stop to use 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.

The findings have energized lawmakers in states that include Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Oklahoma to pursue legislation during their 2010 sessions to adopt texting bans. More efforts are anticipated as Congress could get involved.

A group of U.S. Senate Democrats have their eyes on pushing even more states to adopt texting bans. Legislation unveiled in July 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.

This week, the Governors Highway Safety Association joined the chorus of lawmakers and safety groups advocating texting bans.

Vernon F. Betkey Jr., chairman of the GHSA, said that a ban “will send a message to the public that this dangerous practice is unacceptable. We can begin to change the culture that has permitted distracted driving.”

The majority of people who answered an informal poll on the Land Line site said they support a federal legislative push to ban texting while driving.

The poll question showed 82 percent in favor of a ban. More than 11 percent of respondents answered ‘no’ while 6 percent said they would support a ban only if texting were exempt in certain situations.

Also included in New York’s comprehensive new law, 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 will 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.

The teen driving provisions took effect immediately.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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