December 19, 2017

Distracted Driving: Menace on New York’s Streets and Highways

By Jonathan Damashek

Posted in

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Nine people are killed every day in the United States and more than 1,000 people are injured due to distracted driving. So says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which adds that sending or reading a text while driving at 55 miles per hour takes a driver’s eyes off the road for five seconds, long enough to travel the length of a football field as if blindfolded. The extreme danger of texting while driving is that it combines all three of the following types of distracted driving:

  1. Visual – the driver’s eyes are not on the road
  2. Manual – the driver’s hands are not on the wheel
  3. Cognitive – the driver’s mind is not on driving

Texting while driving is illegal in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office reports that the number of tickets issued each year for texting while driving has risen by 918 percent in the past five years alone. While 9,043 such tickets were issued in 2011, that number skyrocketed to 92,097 in 2016. According to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, New York saw 160 distracted driving fatalities and 33,000 injuries in 2015, the latest year for which such statistics are available. Nearly one quarter of the fatal and personal injury vehicle crashes reported to law enforcement had driver inattention or distraction as a contributing factor.

Distracted Driver Penalties

New York law sets forth the following fines for being convicted of distracted driving:

  • First offense: $50 to $200
  • Second offense in 18 months: $250 maximum fine
  • Third offense in 18 months: $450 maximum fine

In addition, New York drivers with a probationary or junior permit or driver’s license can have their permit/license suspended for 120 days for a first distracted driving conviction. The suspension period increases to one year should they be convicted a second time within six months.

Cell Phones

Section 1225-c of the New York Code prohibits drivers from using any type of a mobile phone while driving when the vehicle is in motion. For commercial drivers, such prohibition extends to while the vehicle is temporarily stopped at a traffic light or for other momentary delays. Should a law enforcement officer notice a driver holding a cell phone anywhere near his or her ear while driving, that driver is presumed to be using the phone.

The following three exceptions apply:

  1. If the phone is being used in an emergency situation, such as talking with a 911 operator; a hospital, doctor’s office or health care clinic; an ambulance company; a fire department; a police department
  2. If the person using the phone is a law enforcement officer, a member of a fire department, or the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle and the call is made or received as part of his or her official duties
  3. If the phone is a hands-free model

Portable Electronic Devices

Section 1225-d of the New York Code applies the same prohibitions and exceptions to the use of a portable electronic device. A portable electronic device is defined to include any of the following:

  • Any type of electronic device, such as a cell phone, that allows the user to write, send, receive or read any type of communication
  • A personal digital assistant
  • A laptop computer or any other type of computer device
  • A pager
  • Any type of personal communication device
  • Any type of gaming device

Distracted Driving Dangers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drivers who take their eyes off the road for as little as two seconds double their risk of being involved in a vehicle crash. Engaging in a “secondary task” such as talking or texting on a cell phone triples that risk. CBS 6 News in Albany reported many sobering distracted driving statistics for 2016.

For instance, every daylight moment of every day, approximately 660,000 drivers are using a cell phone or other electronic device nationwide. The National Safety Council estimates that cell phone usage accounts for 1.6 million vehicle crashes each year, killing eight people each day and injuring an additional 1,161 people. Texting alone accounts for more than 3,000 deaths and 330,000 injuries annually, but 47 percent of adult drivers admit to texting while driving. Ten percent of all teenage drivers who die in vehicle crashes were distracted at the time of the crash.

The Nassau County Distracted Driver Education Program

Distracted driving offenders in Nassau County, just east of New York City, have a new option available to get their conviction expunged. They can install a monitoring device called DriveID in their vehicle that tracks their cell phone usage while the vehicle is in motion and sends a detailed report to the court. If the offender maintains a clean driving record for 90 days, the conviction is expunged and the five points assessed against the offender’s driver’s license are removed.

Considering that an offender’s driver’s license can be suspended if he or she accumulates 11 points in 18 months and close to 40 percent of distracted driving convictions are of repeat offenders, Nassau County is anticipating that its new program will significantly reduce its distracted driving problem. As of February 2017, over 1,600 people had gone through the Distracted Driver Education Program and the success rate stood at 98 percent.