Andrew Cuomo said today that he will introduce a bill to toughen state provisions intended to protect people from drivers who text or use portable electronic devices of any sort behind the wheel. The bill closes loopholes and adds stricter penalties for distracted driving, which contributes to more than 10,000 crashes per year in New York state.
In a statement, Cuomo cited research showing that texting drivers exhibit worse reaction times than drunk drivers. “Every day, countless drivers, particularly teenagers and young adults, drive with their eyes on a screen rather than the road,” said Cuomo. “Current warnings, educational programs, and driving laws aren’t working. We need to impose a true deterrent to stop people from driving while using an electronic device and to keep our roads and citizens safe.”
Advocates applauded the governor’s announcement, with Transportation Alternatives calling the Cuomo bill “groundbreaking.”
New York’s first law aimed at cracking down on texting-while-driving passed in 2009, but it had some serious weaknesses. Among them: a provision inserted by the State Assembly that makes distracted driving a “secondary offense,” meaning a citation can only be issued if the driver had been pulled over for another infraction.
The Cuomo bill would make distracted driving a primary offense, increase the number of points added to a perpetrator’s license from two to three, and mandate education on the dangers of distracted driving as part of the state’s defensive driving curriculum.
The Cuomo bill does stop short of outlawing a very common and socially accepted form of distracted driving: hands-free cell phone use. Talking on a hands-free phone has been shown to impair motorists’ cognition as much as talking with a conventional handset.