New York’s New Ideas for Combatting Distracted Driving

Almost a generation ago New York became the first state to ban the use of handheld cellphones by people driving cars. Such bans are now common, if far from universal. As I have repeatedly written in the years since Oregon’s own distracted driving law went into effect, however, laws against distracted driving are good but are only a first step. Eliminating this practice takes enforcement, but it also takes education and, as New York is now demonstrating, innovative approaches to the problem.

Standing in front of large signs reading “It Can Wait – Text Stop 5 Miles” and “Text Stop: Parking Area 1 Mile” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative this week to highlight places where drivers can easily stop to focus on their electronics.

According to New York public radio station WNYC “as part of the state’s effort to combat distracted driving, nearly 300 new signs are going up along New York roadways, highlighting 91 ‘texting zone’ locations – highway rest stops and other parking locations.” The station explained that the initiative involves only signage – no new rest stops are being constructed – but it aims to make progress simply by informing people that a safe opportunity to take care of their texts and phone calls exists only a short distance up the road.

“The numbers are getting worse, not better” the station quotes Cuomo saying. “We have three times more distracted driving incidents than we did seven years ago.” The signage initiative follows a dramatic increase in distracted driving enforcement across New York this year. According to WNYC “New York State Police issued 21,500 tickets for distracted driving this summer compared with 5,200 in the same period last year.” The new signs are also accompanied by an increase in the penalty for distracted driving: New York drivers will now get $150 tickets and five points on their license.

As an Oregon distracted driving lawyer I find this news from New York encouraging. In some ways, New York is catching up with Oregon, where a bill signed into law last month raised the penalty for distracted driving from a Class D to a Class C violation and increased possible fines to $500. In other ways, however, we remain behind. As I said at the outset, enforcement alone cannot solve this problem. Education and public information are both essential. Road signs designed to get people to wait a few minutes until reaching a place where they can pull off safely are an easy, simple and common sense way to start.

WNYC: NY Gov Cuomo: Distracted Driving is “Getting Worse, Not Better”