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The Sun editorial: Drivers, put down the cell phone and save a life

HAMBURG — New York state has taken an even tougher stance in the fight against texting while driving. As of July 26, motorists caught on their handheld cell phones, whether they be texting, emailing or game-playing, will now face a fine of up to $150 and five points on their licenses for each violation, for up to three.

New York state drivers can lose their licenses after they rack up 11 points, during an 18-month period. Three sets of five-point docks could set a driver close to that limit, from just one traffic stop.

AAA New York called New York’s most recent sanctions “the toughest regulations in the nation” against distracted driving.

The new fine is an increase of $50 from our state’s former texting while driving cost.

AT&T’s “It Can Wait” endeavor asks drivers to pledge not to text and drive. Erie County Fair attendees were invited to participate in this drive, during the past week, as part of the New York State Police program at the fair.

The simulator included a crime scene display involving a crashed car and a walk-through venue. The crime scene depicted a real-life accident in which the driver crashed, as a result of texting while driving, and then left the scene of the accident.

“We’re in the midst of the 100 deadliest days for U.S. teen drivers, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” said Marissa Shorenstein, New York president of AT&T.

Although New York state prohibits drinking and driving with legislation that seems like common sense, texting-related automobile accidents prove that distracted driving is an ongoing issue.

A 2009 study done by “Car and Driver Magazine” proved that texting and driving impairs an individual’s driving abilities just as much as, if not more than, driving while intoxicated. Drivers were tested on a closed course, both while texting and while legally intoxicated with a .08 percent blood alcohol level.

It took, on average, four times longer for drivers to hit the brake when they were reading an email or texting, than when they were unimpaired. When they were legally inebriated, their braking distance increased by 4 feet. When they were sending a text, that distance increased by 70 feet.

According to AAA, “Distraction contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes, leading to around 5,000 deaths, every year.”

“The American public correctly views drinking and driving as wrong,” said CNBC Reporter Philip LeBeau. “But, when it comes to texting and driving, we are not as outraged.”

In a smart move, politicians have taken it upon themselves to draw increased attention to the issue of texting and driving. Today, following Hawaii’s new texting while driving ban, 40 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., now prohibit text messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Five additional states ban text messaging for new drivers. Texting bans are pending in Florida and Texas.

Current New York laws specify that drivers must utilize hands-free devices, when talking on cell phones. Text messaging and other uses of handheld electronic devices by drivers are completely banned.

New York Assemblyman Felix Ortez, who was instrumental in New York’s initial cell phone use ban, recently introduced several pieces of distracted driving legislation. He has asked that all cell phone use while driving be banned, with no hands-free provision. The only exception would be emergency calls.

He also asked that the dialing of mobile telephones by drivers be banned and that police officers be required to note, on accident reports, whether or not a cell phone was in use, at the time of an accident. Additionally, his legislation specifies that drivers who, while utilizing a mobile phone, kill or injure another person, be criminally prosecuted.

Additional legislation currently being contemplated by New York’s governing bodies include the banning of video displays in the front area of a vehicle (excluding navigation screens) and the extension of texting and cell phone use laws to drivers stopped at stop signs, traffic lights and railroad crossings.

In the meantime, politicians, teachers and role models alike are seeking to remind everyone to keep safety first.

I recently visited AT&T’s “It Can Wait” website and signed the no-text-and-drive pledge. Although it can be a wakeup call to walk through crash sites, like the depicted scene at the fair, it should not take a series of unfortunate statistics to scare us into doing the right thing.

Please join in pledging to keep yourselves and the other drivers on the road safe. Take the pledge at www.itcanwait.com.

Watch AT&T’s stories about people who have lost loved ones or who were involved in accidents, due to texting while driving, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=DebhWD6ljZs.
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