June 17, 2009

Assembly Passes Comprehensive Driving Safety Bill

Legislation Prohibits Use of Portable Electronic Devices While Driving and Strengthens Graduated Licensing for Teens

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt today announced Assembly passage of legislation aimed at clamping down on distracted motorists and improving roadway safety across New York State by creating a statewide ban on driving while using portable electronic devices (PEDs) (A.8568-B).

In addition the comprehensive legislation would strengthen graduated licensing requirements for inexperienced teen drivers.

"As we move into the summer season, millions of vacation travelers will be converging upon New York's highways and byways," said Silver. "This heavy volume of traffic, coupled with the millions already using the roadways for their daily travels, means we must be extra vigilant about ensuring driver and pedestrian safety."

"Crashes due to driver inattention or distraction are on the rise and have resulted in more fatalities," said Gantt (D-Rochester). "This legislation builds on our pledge to increase safety on our roads by including the newer technological devices that have since become commonplace."

Provisions of the bill would: In the past few years some New York State counties passed similar local bans. All local laws enacted on or before June 10, 2009, could continue in effect until Nov. 1, 2009, when all such local laws would be preempted.

The measure also stipulates that the commissioner of motor vehicles, in consultation with the superintendent of the state police, study the effects of the use of PEDs while driving, including the effects inattention has on highway and traffic safety. The commissioner will submit a report on his or her findings to the governor and leaders of the Senate and Assembly within four years of the passage of the law.

Safer-driving provisions for junior drivers

In addition to cutting down on driving distractions for all motorists, the bill also introduces legislation that would better protect young, inexperienced drivers and reduce the incidence of traffic crashes by strengthening New York's graduated driver licensing laws and bringing the state's program closer to the model laws recommended by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The bill eliminates the Limited Class DJ/MJ driver license so that young, inexperienced drivers will be supervised for the full six-month learner's permit holding period otherwise required by current law. The elimination of this license will also simplify the current laws regarding junior drivers by making the laws more readily understandable to the public and law enforcement, and therefore, more easily enforced. The bill maintains the junior driver licenses (Class DJ or MJ), which allow limited driving privileges for young people learning to drive.

Specifically, the bill also:

According to a 2008 publication by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a significant percentage of junior drivers are involved in traffic crashes and are twice as likely as adult drivers to be in a fatal crash. Sixteen-year-old drivers have crash rates that are about three times greater than 17-year-old drivers and five times greater than 18-year-old drivers.

Various national organizations, including the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Automobile Association, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and traffic safety researchers have also evaluated, recommended and recognized the benefits of graduated driver license systems because they prolong the learning process and provide a more protective driving environment for young novice drivers and their passengers.