Assembly Passes One-House Safe Driving Bill

While the New York State Senate scrambles to salvage some dignity from the current legislative session, the Assembly has busied itself with a flurry of one-house lawmaking. Last week, for instance, the chamber passed a safe driving bill aimed primarily at teen drivers, sponsored by transportation committee chair David Gantt. It includes some good stuff, like extending the number of practice hours that must be completed before taking the driver’s license exam. And it would create a new traffic infraction to penalize driving while texting or using any handheld electronic device, no matter how old you are. The bill cleared the Assembly in a 146-0 vote.

On the merits, the texting "ban" is weaker than another bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, which the transportation committee never brought up for a vote. Under the Gantt bill, a driver could be fined, but not pulled over, for texting behind the wheel.

"While we certainly support the intent of the bill, we have questions about specific language which would seem to greatly restrict its actual application," said TA’s Peter Goldwasser in an email. "In short, unless an individual is committing another, different violation in the first place, then he or she is not subject to receiving a summons for violating this new offense."

In 2007, there were nearly 10,500 crashes in New York where the contributing factor was driver inattention or distraction, Goldwasser noted. Shouldn’t that be enough reason to make distracted driving a standalone violation?

On balance, this bill would be a step forward for street safety in New York, but with the State Senate in the midst of its epic breakdown, the odds of it becoming law — during this session, at least — are vanishingly small. (So far, there’s not even a version of this bill in the Senate.) This will be something to keep an eye on in the next legislative session. The speaker, the transportation committee chair, and the whole Assembly are on record supporting this bill, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t pass again when the opportunity arises.

  • Does New York really need a bicameral legislature?

  • How can you be fined without being pulled over?

  • herenthere: The bill is written so that law enforcement can’t issue a violation solely for driving while using a portable electronic device. An officer would have to observe a different violation before pulling someone over. Then, if the driver was also observed texting or using a PDA, the distracted driving fine could be tacked on.

  • Ben: Well…that’s kind of…stupid. Gantt’s ridiculous reasoning. Besides, cops don’t even care that much anyways about stuff like this, I mean unless they physically see the driver holding their PDA/cell up…they just wait for the big tickets.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Transpo Bills Gummed Up By State Senate Dysfunction

|
After spending the last five weeks affirming Albany’s status as the nation’s most dysfunctional state capital, the State Senate will have one last extraordinary session this Wednesday before calling it a year. The chamber is not expected to pass much in the way of transportation bills. (The Assembly wrapped up its session last month.) Here’s […]

If Texting-While-Driving Ban Fails, Blame Albany’s “Democracy of One”

|
Sheldon Silver. Photo: Daily News. Last week Streetsblog followed up on the stalled progress of a statewide texting-while-driving ban, a bill that appears to be going nowhere even though almost everyone on the Assembly transportation committee supports it, according to Brooklyn representative Felix Ortiz. When we contacted Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office, a spokesperson told […]

Assembly Transpo Chair LOLZ @ Txting-While-Driving Ban

|
One 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 […]

Assembly Kneecaps Complete Streets; Senate Passes Hayley & Diego’s Law

|
Just when you thought the State Assembly was safe for forward-thinking transportation legislation, Rochester rep David Gantt, the Transportation Committee chair formerly of bus cam-killing fame, has thrown a wrench into attempts to pass a complete streets bill. The complete streets bill would require almost all new and reconstructed roads in the state to accommodate […]

Albany Update: Hayley and Diego’s Law Has Momentum

|
The Albany legislative session is scheduled to end two weeks from today, and time is running out for state legislators to make streets safer, buses faster, and cities more sustainable. Earlier today we discussed the prospects of bus lane camera enforcement. Here’s a survey of the other top legislative priorities for supporters of livable streets. […]