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New bill would target driving while using electronic devices

iStock image used with permission.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants three points to be added to a driver’s license for the use of any portable electronic device while driving.

He announced Friday that he will introduce new legislation that will crack down on drivers caught using portable electronic devices — BlackBerrys, iPhones, iPads, laptop computers, electronic games — or talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device.

The proposed bill would also make driving while using any portable electronic device a primary, rather than a secondary, offense. That would mean drivers could be stopped solely for using such devices instead of being pulled over for another offense and then being charged with using an electronic device.

“Every day, countless drivers, particularly teenagers and young adults, drive with their eyes on a screen rather than the road,” Cuomo said. “Distracted driving is nothing less than a lethal activity for the driver themselves, other drivers on the road and pedestrians. Current warnings, educational programs and driving laws aren’t working. We need to impose a true deterrent to stop people from driving while using an electronic device and to keep our roads and citizens safe.”

Current law makes driving while using a portable electronic device a secondary offense, so in order for a person to be ticketed, the driver must have committed a primary enforcement offense, such as speeding, disobeying a traffic signal or other violation. The penalty for a violation of this law is a fine of up to $150.

In addition to increasing the penalty from two to three points, the legislation would also require that distracted driving be included as part of the defensive driving curriculum. Cuomo is working with both houses of the Legislature, which have introduced their own legislation cracking down on texting while driving, to see comprehensive legislation passed by the end of the legislative session June 20.

According to the release, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 16 percent of fatal accidents in 2009 were due to distracted driving and 20 percent of people injured during a crash were involved in a crash where distracted driving was reported.

A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of a crash or near crash, while another study compared reaction times when a driver was texting to when a driver was intoxicated, and found that the reaction time while texting was worse.

A National Insurance study estimated 20 percent of all drivers, and 66 percent of drivers ages 18 to 24, are sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel, leaving young drivers most vulnerable.

Cuomo said several fatal accidents in New York have highlighted the dangers including the June 2007 accident in which five teens were killed in an Ontario County accident five days after their graduation from Fairport High School.

Seconds before the crash, according to Sheriff Philip C. Povero, text messages were sent to and from the driver’s phone, although it will never be known who was using the phone.