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David Gantt

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.

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