Cuomo to Introduce Statewide Distracted Driving Bill With Teeth

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.

  • carma

    i cant wait.  this is awesome.  i absolutely agree that hands free phones do very little.  its the conversation folks.  its not the fact that you dont have both hands on the wheel.
    think about all the stick shift drivers.  (myself included)
    once you are immersed.  you get clueless about the road.  its 10x worse with texting.

    im proud to say i have never texted and try to avoid cell phone usage completely, (although i admit to the occasional 10 second, on the road call you back later calls)

  • carma

    i cant wait.  this is awesome.  i absolutely agree that hands free phones do very little.  its the conversation folks.  its not the fact that you dont have both hands on the wheel.
    think about all the stick shift drivers.  (myself included)
    once you are immersed.  you get clueless about the road.  its 10x worse with texting.

    im proud to say i have never texted and try to avoid cell phone usage completely, (although i admit to the occasional 10 second, on the road call you back later calls)

  • Driver

    I totally agree.  The problem is not using one hand (as any manual shift driver or coffee drinker will tell you), the problem is focusing on the conversation and not your surroundings.  As a professional driver I can tell you that people using hands free are a problem, and from my own limited experience talking and driving, your overall awareness as a driver is greatly diminished while you are on the phone. 
    I’m not sure why, but in my experience talking to someone on the phone is very different than talking to someone in the car with you.

  • Eric McClure

    Driver, I think the big difference is that the other person in the car with you is another set of eyes and ears — the proverbial back-seat driver, if you will.

  • Eric McClure

    Nothing mandating the subpoenaing of cell phone records in any crash, I take it?

  • Driver

    Eric, what I am referring to is my own perception of how much I am aware or not.  If talking on a phone and driving, I can tell I am not processing as much of my surroundings and that the phone is taking my focus away from driving. When talking to a passenger I don’t have that same feeling, and from years of experience, I don’t think talking to the passenger is anywhere close to the distraction that talking on the phone is and I don’t think it’s because of the back seat driver factor. 

  • Joe R.

    I’m of two minds about this.  Yes, distracted driving is dangerous, and can cause accidents.  However, the operative word is CAN.  Ticketing people doing something which MIGHT be dangerous some small percentage of the time strikes me as a slippery slope.  After all, lawmakers can deem anything they don’t like dangerous by citing one or two examples where it caused harm.

    In lieu of a law like this, I would rather have a distracted driving law where if you get into an accident, and it’s proven you were distracted, then you lose your license for life.  Real life.  Not a year, not 5 years, not 10 years, but permanently.  In fact, I would like a law which states if you severely injure or kill someone while driving, and it’s proven to be your fault (whether or not you were driving distracted), then you lose your license for good.  And in cases with minor or no injuries, you lose driving privileges for a certain amount of time if you’re at fault in an accident.  No need to bother enforcing or even having traffic laws (many of which only serve as revenue streams, with little practical enhancement of safety).  Eventually the idea will get around-drive in such a way that you don’t get into accidents.  Unlicensing people as they cause accidents will eventually leave only the safe drivers.

    Unlike some others here who call for blood every time a motorist kills someone, I personally don’t see anything to be gained by prison terms after the fact.  It won’t bring back the dead.  Rather, just make sure this person will never, ever drive a car for as long as they live.  And back it up with strict driving without a license laws.  You’re caught driving without a license, the car gets seized and auctioned off.  You’re out whatever it cost you.  Most people can’t afford to keep replacing seized cars.

  • carma

    when im driving, i want to be focused on the road.

    yes, you can certainly have conversations, but i bet you have encountered situations where you are in an unfamiliar surrounding, and you dont know how the road curves.  those times you wouldnt want to converse with anybody.  even passengers.
    at least thats from my own experience.

    regarding manual transmissions.  i feel you are much connected to the road, and the car.  you are definitely more alert driving stick shift.  and by that fact alone you are more aware of your surroundings.  its such a shame manual transmission driving is a dying skill.

  • Driver

    Ticketing people doing something which MIGHT be dangerous some small percentage of the time strikes me as a slippery slope.

    I guess we can reverse the DWI laws and just punish those who screw up while drunk. 

    Sorry Joe, revoking the license or even jailing a driver doesn’t do a bit to help the person maimed or killed by a driver practicing a known risky behavior. 

    And as to whether someone texting is a hazard on the road, I can tell you I have seen many people on the road weaving and doing otherwise erratic things.  In the old days I would just assume that person was drunk, now I just assume that person is texting.  I also see many people in moving cars looking down at their phones, and not at what is in front of them.  If you doubt the dangers of texting, try doing it while you are on your bicycle, however  I suggest doing this on a closed course.

  • Driver

    Carma, I don’t think you want to be focused on the road.  You want to be paying attention to (not listed in order or importance) the road, the traffic signals and control signs, what is in front of you, as well as the cars around you, on your sides and also behind you.  You also want to pay attention to the actions and intentions of other drivers as well as the actions and intentions of any pedestrians or cyclists, both on the road and off.  I think what you meant to say is you want to be focused on driving.  Sadly, some people do just focus on the road.  I’m sure we have all seen them, and they are a hazard to the general public.

  • Joe R.

    OK, we can both agree that distracted driving is something proven dangerous enough that it should be stopped.  However, ticketing for testing or cell-phone use while driving is still doing it after the fact, not before.  Why not put jammers on roads so you just can’t receive a signal unless you park in designated “reception zones”.  Solves the problem 100% without wasting police resources looking for distracted drivers.

    And I did see some idiot once texting on a bike.  I thought it was the most insanely retarded thing you could do on a bike.  I don’t even own a cell phone, so no chance of me ever doing that.  Jammers would work on people texting while biking also.  I much prefer that if we deem something dangerous enough that it shouldn’t be done, then we design infrastructure to pretty much make it impossible to do.  Self-enforcing, no need to get the police or courts involved.

  • Joe R.

    A cyclist actually does need to be somewhat focused on the road itself in order to look out for potholes.  In fact, that’s usually my number one priority because I can’t do much of anything else without remaining upright.  After potholes, generally I’m looking/listening at the vehicles around me, as well as perhaps up to a block ahead, and plannig in advance the course I’ll take.  i might see a double-parked car, for example, and start checking for an opening in traffic so as to be able to go around it without stopping or slowing.  After that, my priority is generally looking at the state of the next few traffic signals.  Can I make the next one?  If so, can I do it by maintaining my speed, or do I need to increase my speed?  If not, or if it’s already red, can I safely pass?  Or instead just turn right?  If it’s been red awhile, how much do I need to cut my speed so I hit it just as it’s flipping back to green?  When you look at all the permutations of light timings and spacings, this can all get very challenging mentally.  As for pedestrians, I generally only pay attention to those I see already in crosswalks, or about to enter crosswalks.  The times/places I ride, there just aren’t many pedestrian encounters.

    And yes, it’s all too easy to spot distracted drivers.  Those are the ones moving at 10 mph, hitting their brakes every 5 seconds, speeding up again, etc.  I get around these morons for my own safety as quickly as possible.

  • carma

    when i meant road, i meant everything.  yes.  i dont only mean roads.  i mean not only the car next to you, but the car next to the car next to you.  what if he swerves in.  what is the next car going to do.  heh, that green light is changing, is the guy going to run the red.  that pedestrian looks like hes darting across the road.  what do i do?
    thats what i mean by road.
    ive been driving alert text and phone free for 17 years.  not one accident to my record.

  • carma

    when i meant road, i meant everything.  yes.  i dont only mean roads.  i mean not only the car next to you, but the car next to the car next to you.  what if he swerves in.  what is the next car going to do.  heh, that green light is changing, is the guy going to run the red.  that pedestrian looks like hes darting across the road.  what do i do?
    thats what i mean by road.
    ive been driving alert text and phone free for 17 years.  not one accident to my record.

  • carma

    joe,
    i agree.  after seeing this winters batch of potholes.  i have to say the most dangerous thing is a pothole.  not a car.   seeing a pothole forces you to swerve all over to avoid the pothole.   forcing you head on into traffic.

    the beauty of manhattan cross streets on a bike is if you pace at 15mph, you can always hit EVERy green.. (barely) but you always hit every green w/o having to stop for a light.  only works on a bike.  

  • carma

    as much as that sounds like a good idea.  it isnt.  what about pedestrians crossing the street?  technology wise, its probably not even possible w/o creating so many dead zones.

  • All the things you can get a ticket for in a car are things that CAN cause accidents.  The vast majority of people speeding on the highway do not cause an accident.  We have already slide down that slippery slope.

  • Joe R.

    Chicken Underwear, there’s a fine line between ticketing for things likely to be dangerous, versus things which usually aren’t dangerous.  Speeding on highways is a great example.  We purposely set the limits way too low for revenue purposes.  Looking at the prevailing speeds of traffic on the LIE (the rare times it’s moving, anyway), I might say 75 or 80 would be a reasonable limit which would weed out those whose speed was truly dangerous.  On the NYS Thruway, I might make that limit around 100 or 110.  That road is perfectly safe at 100 mph despite the 65 mph limit.  I’ve been on it with my brother many times, often on trips where the speedo stayed over 100 mph for an hour at a time.  Never a safety issue at all.  When we overtook slower traffic, we just slowed up as needed well in advance.

    Distracted driving is pretty much always dangerous, no arguing that.  But like I said, set things up so people just can’t use their phones.  We can do this technologically.  It might amount to just NOT having cell towers at all, but instead only putting transceivers in booths or parking spaces dedicated for cell phone use.  And if it’s a side effect of blocking motorists’ reception, I personally consider pedestrians losing cell phone reception when crossing streets a plus.  I see so many idiots crossing the streets with their heads buried in their electronic toys.  Realistically, most of the time these toys function as pacifiers, not real, urgent, necessary communication.  People lived without them before.  I’ve gotten along just fine without a cell phone, and never plan to get one.  I like the idea of being peaceful when I’m out, without any possibility of interruptions.

  • carma

    Joe, You’ll have to remember the 70’s where speed limits were not set b/c of safety, but b/c of the gas crisis at the time. 55mph nationwide.  although, 55 is probably still not the most efficient for most cars.  its more closer to 60.. anyways, i digress.   prior to that each state dictated its own speed limit.  in fact, montana at some points didnt have any speed limit.  and in the 90’s, it was called the autobahn of the west.

    the reason 65 is a general speed limit in ny and in most northeastern states is b/c although you can drive safely at 90mph, there really are some folks who dont feel comfortable going 90. never mind how much more gas burns at 90mph than at 65mph.

    now on an open road w/ no exit/entrances for uncoming cars.  and if its a truly empty road.  i find little doubt you can do 90mph safely.  but when you see a bunch of cars doing 65, and you are going 90.  you are being reckless.

    i will disagree on disarming cell towers near roads. its just a feasible solution.  a cell tower produces a signal that can spread over a wide area.  in an area like nyc grid system, who would you even create a cell tower that can only limit to off street signal?  its not possible.

    heh, i hate folks using cell phones while driving probably as much as most folks here.  i drive and im fed up w/ stupid driving.  ive driven behind a car for 17 years.  never have i seen such stupid drivers than in the last 5 years w/ all the technology in ppls hands.  heh, i love technology.  i have ipads, ipods, android phones, etc…  but there comes a point where driving still must be DRIVING ONLY.

    cuomo is doing his part in toughening the law.  but banning cell signals from cars is near technologically impossible and probably unsafe.  what if you need to dial an emergency call like 911.  i did have to do that twice.  i recall calling to report a hit and run by an erratic driver hitting another car..  (i pulled over).  and i also recalled seeing a chinatown bus driver nearly sideswiping the rails.  (i pulled over also)

    i would like to think that technological advances like cell phones progress society.  yes, we lived without them in the past.  but arent breathroughs like cell communication a good thing?

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus You don’t think that passengers (as opposed to drivers) in cars should be allowed to use phones?  What about drivers making emergency calls (to 911, to family, to the boss) while stopped?

  • Joe R.

    Andrew,

    In an ideal world you’re right.  Maybe the real answer here is to design cars with a dead spot in the driver’s seat (which goes away when the car is stopped so emergency calls can be made.  This way the driver can’t use the phne but the passengers can.  Regardless, I still feel the answer here is more technological than legal.  We pass all sorts of laws and they seldom do much good.  I’d rather the justice system and police stick to the big stuff like murder or rape or grand larceny while we think up inherently self-enforcing technological ways to deal with traffic safety.

    The ultimate answer is probably driverless cars but we’re not there yet (perhaps within 2 decades).  If the distractions aren’t going away, then we might as well take the human completely out of the loop.

    Maybe if we made the licensing procedure much harder then people might taking driving more seriously.  I wonder how it is in countries with very strict licensing procedures like Germany?  Is there still a lot of distracted driving there?  Part of the problem as I see it is in the USA we take having a driver’s license as practically a birthright, and view our cars as extensions of our living rooms.  I take riding my bike more seriously than a lot of drivers seem to take driving a multi-ton machine.

  • Eric McClure

    Driver, here’s a passage from The New York Times’ series on distracted driving:  

    The highway safety administration estimates that drivers using a hand-held device are at 1.3 times greater risk of a crash or near crash, and at three times the risk when dialing, compared with others who are simply driving. The agency based its conclusions on research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which placed cameras inside cars to monitor drivers for more than a year. The study found cellphones to be the most common cause of driver distraction.

    Research also shows that drivers conversing with fellow passengers do not present the same danger, because adult riders help keep drivers alert and point out dangerous conditions and tend to talk less in heavy traffic or hazardous weather.

    Whatever the reason, the phone conversation is more dangerous, so I guess we’re both right.

  • Andrew

    I agree completely with your third paragraph.

    Unfortunately, most of the country is laid out such that the only way to buy food is to drive to the store, so there will inevitably be strong objections to your proposal. But I think this is part of the reason that so many drivers are so careless: they think of driving to the store as “going shopping” rather than “operating a piece of heavy machinery (that can potentially kill people if I’m not careful) in order to get me to the store.”

  • Andrew

    I agree completely with your third paragraph.Unfortunately, most of the country is laid out such that the only way to buy food is to drive to the store, so there will inevitably be strong objections to your proposal. But I think this is part of the reason that so many drivers are so careless: they think of driving to the store as “going shopping” rather than “operating a piece of heavy machinery (that can potentially kill people if I’m not careful) in order to get me to the store.”

  • Lyle

    Cellphone use in cars is far more dangerous on city streets than on highways.  I would tolerate a legal or technological compromise that prevents the former while permitting the latter.  For example (this is just a concept): integrating a short-range intermittent cellphone jammer into the steering wheel, so that conversations are only possible if there have been no steering wheel deflections of greater than 15ish degrees for the previous five minutes.   Yes, this *might* prevent passengers from using their cellphones.  But passengers in cars hardly ever even had telephones at all until ten or fifteen years ago, and the world didn’t suffer for it.  And yes I can imagine undesireable side effects as well — the basic concept would require some refinement.

  • carma

    actually, driving is a privelage.  NOT a right.
    i feel sorry for all the folks that have to depend on a car but it still is ONLY A PRIVELAGE.  those that can not drive properly need not apply for a license.  those that want to drive while drinking need not drive.  those that text while driving need not drive!!

  • carma

    http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2011/06/12/2011-06-12_textdrivetakeyerphone_plan.html
    how about this.  put texting and driving on the same par as drinking and driving.
    if anything, DUI is probably less of a hazard than texting and driving.  you may be dazed when drunk, but at least your eyes are still on the road.  w/ texting, its like the car is on autopilot to crashdom.

  • Driver

    Good find Eric, thanks. 

  • Mouhamad A. Naboulsi

    The research that is pointing to talking Hands Free is as Dangerous as Hand Held is already outdated. The current standard is the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study sponsored by DOT-NHTSA and carried out by Virginia Tech. This study showed that the primary cause of accidents is drivers looking away from the road and manually manipulating objects including cell phones.  Laws are great in that they raise awareness and bring a probabale certainty to drivers.  They know what a ticket is so they can understand the consequence.  Accidents however are not as real and are possibly pushed out of the driver mind by denial.  But Laws are expensive to enforce and I have a technology that integrates the entire driving experience into one system.  This means that the phone, the car, the driver skill and the traffic/weather/enviornment are working together to assure safety instead of each having its own cycle.  Please see http://iQ-Gateway.com for a sample of what such system can do.  It can even monitor if the hands are on the steering wheel or not.

  • Texting drivers are  very dangerous because even if they can’t be compared to drunk or speeding ones, the consequences can be the same.
    The penalties for careless drivers must be big enough to make them thing twice before using their phone or doing something else that can distract them…

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