Whether you keep in touch by using your mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), laptop, pager or two-way messenger, New Yorkers are constantly “plugged-in.” While these devices have numerous benefits, their increased usage has proven to be a significant distraction and danger on the road. For that reason, I helped implement a statewide ban on driving while using portable electronic devices (PEDs) (Ch. 403 of 2009).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 25 percent of all police-reported crashes involve some form of driver inattention. According to a 2007 Harris Interactive poll, 91 percent of Americans think that driving while texting is as dangerous as drunk driving, and 89 percent of those polled were in favor of a ban.
Under the new law, drivers are prohibited from composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages or other electronic data while driving. The measure also bans viewing, taking or transmitting images and playing games. Motorists found in violation of the ban could face a maximum fine of $150. Fines are allowed to be imposed only as a secondary offense, when the driver is pulled over for a violation of another law.
In addition, the law requires the commissioner of motor vehicles to work with the superintendent of the state police to study the effects of the use of PEDs while driving. Previous studies have shown that drivers who use PEDs behind the wheel dramatically increase their chances of being in or causing a traffic accident. According to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, speaking on a cell phone while driving or texting impairs several aspects of driving performance, especially reaction time.
In the past few years, counties throughout the state have passed similar local bans. As of Nov. 1, 2009, these local laws were preempted and all New Yorkers are now subject to the new statewide stipulations.
Safe-driving provisions for junior drivers
In addition to reducing driving distractions, the new law also better protects young, inexperienced drivers by strengthening New York’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws and bringing the state’s program closer to the model recommended by the NHSTA.
According to a 2008 NHTSA publication, 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. It has been proven that certain factors, including lack of driving experience, inadequate driving skills, risk-taking behavior and distractions from other teenage passengers, have contributed to higher crash rates among teenagers.
The new law eliminates the limited class junior operator (DJ) and junior motorcycle (MJ) driver license so that young, inexperienced drivers will be supervised for the full six-month permit period and maintains junior driver licenses (Class DJ or MJ), which allow limited driving privileges for young people learning to drive. The law also increases the number of practice driving hours that must be certified by a parent or guardian from 20 hours to 50 hours before a permit-holding junior driver can obtain a license. The number of non-family passengers under the age of 21 allowed to ride with a junior driver not accompanied by a supervising adult has also been reduced from two to one.
These new stipulations will go a long way toward limiting driver distractions and inexperience, and only further New York’s ongoing commitment to solving the tragic problem of fatal and personal injury crashes.