The New York State Senate today passed legislation that would prohibit drivers from sending text messages while driving. The bill (S.3195-C), sponsored by Senator Carl Marcellino (R, Syosset), amends previous legislation banning cell phone use while driving by prohibiting drivers from writing, sending or reading text messages on a mobile telephone or any other mobile device.
"Text messaging is the ultimate distraction, taking any and all focus and attention off the road.
Most of the time you’re using two thumbs, plus you’re looking at the screen," said Senator Marcellino.
"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."
"It is vitally important that drivers remain focused and attentive while they are behind the wheel," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno. "This bill will force drivers to think twice before reaching for their cell phones and give law enforcement official s 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.
"Text messaging is second nature to young people. They do it all the time. However, there are times when the consequences of texting can be deadly. The tragic and untimely deaths of these five young women are a terrible and shocking illustration of that danger," said Senator Marcellino.
A recent survey conducted by the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company 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 18-34. 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, e-mail, etc. 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 adds texting to the language of the state’s current law that bans talking on a cell phone while driving. It also requires that at least one question on the NYS DMV licensing written examination relates to cell phone safety and calls for the DMV Commissioner to provide for the additional training of pre-licensing course instructors to ensure competency in cell phone safety instruction. The educational component of the bill will help teach and inform drivers that texting while driving is against the law.
The penalty for driving while texting would be a $100 fine, the same as the original cell phone ban. The original cell phone language did not cover texting because the language of the bill was specific to making a voice call.
"We must continue to do everything in our power to make our roads safer. Now is the time to end texting while driving before more of our young people, or anyone else for that matter, become victims," said Senator Marcellino.
The bill was sent to the Assembly.