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Legislature Passes Distracted Driving Bill With Weaker Penalty Than Cuomo’s

12:47 PM EDT on July 5, 2011

If you see something like this, say something. Image: OregonDOT via Flickr.

Legislation beefing up the state's distracted driving laws passed the state legislature at the end of what was a fairly productive session on transportation issues last month. If signed into law, the bill should help prevent some of the 10,000 crashes caused by distracted driving each year in New York state. What passed the legislature is slightly weaker, however, than the distracted driving bill put forward by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Right now, the state's distracted driving laws are weakened by the fact that texting or using other handheld electronic devices while driving is only a secondary offense. Law enforcement can only issue a ticket for it if they've pulled over the driver for another offense. Under both the legislative version of the bill, sponsored by Senator Carl Marcellino and Assembly Member Harvey Weisenberg, and Cuomo's version, distracted driving would be made a primary offense.

New York is one of only four states that ban distracted driving but do not make it a primary offense.

Also under both pieces of legislation, lessons on the dangers of distraction would be added to driver's education courses.

The fundamental similarities of the two bills suggest that Cuomo might sign the legislation. "We know that he wants texting laws to be stronger," said Kathy Wilson, a spokesperson for Marcellino.

Cuomo's legislation, however, was slightly tougher than what passed the legislature. "It's not as stringent," admitted Wilson. The biggest difference between the two, she said, was that Cuomo's bill would increase the number of points added to a distracted driver's license from two to three, while the legislature's version would not.

"The Governor and the Legislature's versions of the distracted driving law make the current law enforceable," said Transportation Alternatives' Lindsey Lusher Shute. "Governor Cuomo's version of the distracted driving bill is undoubtably stronger and is likely to be more effective at getting bad drivers off the road over the long term. Points, being a highly effective deterrent, are appropriate and necessary tool to solving the growing problem of distracted driving in New York State."

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