Assembly Transpo Chair LOLZ @ Txting-While-Driving Ban

texting_while_driving.jpgOne in four American motorists text and drive, despite the fact that distracted driving is implicated in 80 percent of all crashes. Photo: Switched.

When reports surfaced last week that Assembly Member David Gantt intends to block a statewide texting-while-driving ban (again), we were curious: What does the chairman of the transportation committee have against a common-sense measure to discourage dangerous driving habits? After placing a call to Gantt’s office yesterday morning, we’re still waiting to hear back. The Rochester representative is famously circumspect when it comes to explaining his decisions, so the lack of a timely reply came as no surprise. After all, he doesn’t return calls to members of his own committee, either.

Buffalo Assembly Member Mark Schroeder called Gantt’s office last Wednesday seeking clarification on the chairman’s plans for the texting-while-driving ban. The bill needs Gantt’s blessing to get on the transportation committee calendar, and Schroeder wanted to know the deal. Would Gantt allow the bill to come up for a vote? Like us, Schroeder is still waiting for an answer.

Bill sponsor Felix Ortiz, a Brooklyn Democrat who has pushed legislation to deter distracted driving for more than a decade, was able to get a few minutes of face time with Gantt last week. In classic foot-dragging style, the chairman told Ortiz that he would prefer to address distracted driving with a more "comprehensive" bill that penalizes all forms of inattentiveness behind the wheel. Seems reasonable enough, right? Well, not quite. As Ortiz told Streetsblog: "This is how things die here."

Gantt’s gambit is a tried-and-true Albany maneuver, deployed to kill bills softly by offering an alternative that can be spun as an acceptable substitute. But how plausible is Gantt’s alternative?

The chairman has his own bill, no. 786, that would create a new class of traffic infraction called "inattentive driving," defined loosely as any non-driving activity that "unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway" or "unreasonably endangers other people who are using the public highways." That may sound good in principle, but the language leaves too much unspecified to serve as effective legislation, or to garner the support needed to become law in the first place.

"Texting needs to be addressed by itself," Ortiz said. "It doesn’t make too much sense to have a comprehensive piece of legislation."

Compared to Gantt’s bill, the texting ban gets to the point much more directly. It would simply extend the prohibition against cell phone use while driving to include all texting activity.

If the proof of a bill’s legitimacy is in its co-sponsors, then Gantt’s bill is pure smokescreen. Introduced more than four months ago, it has no co-sponsors and no corresponding version in the State Senate. The texting ban, by contrast, enjoys the support of 48 co-sponsors. A Senate version has already cleared that chamber three years running.

Given the strong rank-and-file support for the texting ban, it’s remarkable that one member of the Assembly can effectively halt its progress. While press reports hint that proponents of the bill may somehow skirt Gantt’s stonewalling, the way forward is murky at best. A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that it’s up to the transportation committee chair to bring any bill up for a vote, and that there are no plans to consider any distracted driving legislation outside the normal committee process. The Speaker’s office did not answer requests to comment specifically about chairman Gantt’s position on the proposed texting ban.

  • I think it’s important that people know it’s not just texting while moving that’s the problem. It’s texting while driving. I had never texted really until this year since I had no mobile overseas so it hadn’t occurred to me. But, yesterday I was in the left turn lane and a guy to my right going straight was texting. When my light to go left turned green he started to go straight and only after a 5 second honk on my part did he stop and not get hit by cars from the other direction. I texted once while stopped at a light and realized just how discombobulated it had made me and realized I should never do it again and I was lucky I didn’t do anything dangerous like the above guy did. It’s important to understand that texting messes with your reactions even for a while after you’ve stopped texting. This is incredibly important and I can’t believe it’s not illegal everywhere.

  • vnm

    “unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway” or “unreasonably endangers other people who are using the public highways.”

    This mealy-mouthed definition of what is prohibited is a recipe for errant motorists contesting traffic tickets and winning.

  • …a traffic infraction called “inattentive driving,” defined loosely as any non-driving activity that “unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway” or “unreasonably endangers other people who are using the public highways”…

    Good grief. What’s wrong with “It’s illegal to play with a cellphone while behind the wheel” ?

    When I’m in charge, things will change. I’ll just make it illegal to be a dumb*ss.

  • > When my light to go left turned green he started to go straight and only after a 5 second honk on my part did he stop and not get hit by cars from the other direction

    Do guns kill people, too?

    The problem’s not the cell phone, it’s the douche behind the wheel. Start prosecuting people for their reckless behavior (which is already illegal), instead of piling on more laws.

  • Kaja, the problem is you cannot exactly see much reckless behavior involving driving until it is too late. Your view seems to imply that it is okay to text and drive as long as it doesn’t cause reckless driving that a policeman would see and ticket you for. And, yes, it is quite possible, but allowing texting and then only ticketing when you can clearly see the results would be like allowing drinking and driving and then only ticketing drivers when you see the results. But, anyone who is pulled over and tests positive for alcohol gets a DUI and anyone pulled over for texting even if they are seemingly driving properly should get a ticket too. I’m sure I could reasonably safely shoot off a gun at a lead target in my car… but eventually something is going to go wrong. The point is to make clearly risky public behavior with large machines against the law in the first place.

  • bob

    Well said, Fritz.

  • Kaja

    > Your view seems to imply that it is okay to text and drive as long as it doesn’t cause reckless driving that a policeman would see and ticket you for.

    What’s a crime, Fritz?

    Crime is harm caused to others. Just laws reflect this. (Hence ‘restorative justice’; which granted is often impossible as crimes particularly committed with cars often can’t be fixed.)

    Policework shouldn’t be preventive. That’s pre-crime, it’s another can of worms.

    Anyway if you go the strictly restorative route, and lock up anyone who commits a wrong they can’t or won’t right, we’d have a far safer society both on the roads and at large, because…

    …it’s a problem of people, not of technology. Incentives matter, and if we punished the right crimes, people would react accordingly.

  • The problem’s not the cell phone, it’s the douche behind the wheel. Start prosecuting people for their reckless behavior (which is already illegal), instead of piling on more laws.

    Sounds nice, and it would be the ideal situation if we had the time and resources and could be reasonably confident about achieving those changes before too many more lives are lost. But let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  • It is just too unsafe to allow for texting while driving. Concentration should be on the road not on your phone!

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