New York Senate Bill Bans Texting While Driving

May 28, 2008

The New York Senate has passed legislation that would prohibit drivers from reading, writing or sending text messages while driving in the Empire State.

The law modifies earlier legislation that bans cell phone use while driving, and creates a $100 penalty for driving while texting – the same penalty as the original cell phone ban. It would also require adding at least one question about cell phone safety to the state’s written licensing exam, and require the state’s department of motor vehicles to see that driving-teachers are trained in cell phone safety instruction.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), called text messaging the “ultimate distraction” to drivers. “And if you’re driving, that fraction of a second that you take your eye off the road can be the difference between an accident or not.”

Added Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno: “It is vitally important that drivers remain focused and attentive while they are behind the wheel. This bill will force drivers to think twice before reaching for their cell phones and give law enforcement officials across our state the tools necessary to keep our roads that much safer.”

In July 2007, five high school graduates were killed in an automobile accident in upstate New York. According to police, text messages were sent and received on the 17 year-old driver’s cell phone moments before her SUV slammed head on into a truck.

A recent survey conducted by the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. found that one in five drivers are texting while behind the wheel. The same survey found that the figure rises to one in three for drivers aged 18 to 34. A 2007 Harris Interactive poll found that 91 percent of Americans think driving while texting is as dangerous as drunk driving and 89 percent of those polled support a ban.

“This legislation would build upon the current state ban on the use of handheld phones by prohibiting the use of handheld communication devices to send text messages… while operating a motor vehicle. Clearly, such conduct while driving represents behavior that is more dangerous than using handheld phones and should be prohibited,” said Antoanela Vaccaro, manager of government affairs for AAA New York.

The bill number is S3195-C; it now heads to the General Assembly.

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