State supplements campaign against texting while driving

New York State is focusing on enforcing texting while driving laws in an effort to further reduce cell phone use behind the wheel. In addition to this stricter enforcement, new signage promoting safe driving appeared along highways to remind drivers of the laws and to encourage them to make safe decisions on the road.

The 298 signs indicate pull-offs on highways for drivers to park their cars and use their cell phones safely. Ninety-one texting zones are scattered across the New York State Thruway, including one off of Interstate 390 in Geneseo.

Texting zones include existing park-n-ride facilities, rest stops and other parking areas.

“Even if only one or two cars used the texting zones, it would makes the roadways safer,” New York State Police Trooper Mark O’Donnell said. “That’s two less drivers texting and driving.”

Recent modifications to the original cell phone and texting laws limit almost all telephone use in motor vehicles while simultaneously increasing the severity of penalties. According to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, adjustments to the law eliminate all allowance of cell phone use in the car that causes a driver to push more than one button to talk on the phone. This includes moments in which the vehicle is not in motion.

The price of a ticket for texting while driving also increased in July, slapping some offenders with fine of up to $400. According to a statement issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press office, there was a 365 percent increase in tickets issued in summer 2013 compared to summer 2012 for “distracted driving.” This increase was the result of the “extensive enforcement crackdown.”

Along with stricter enforcement policies, the state now adds five, not three, driver violation points to one’s license in the event of a texting penalty, according to the governor’s press office. In addition, the license suspension period for new and young drivers caught texting increased substantially, ranging from a minimum of 60 days to up to six months if a second conviction is made within a six-month period.

“I think the more punishment and enforcement you see, the more behavior will curve,” Chief of the Geneseo Police Department Eric Osganian said. “People will adapt to using a hands-free device.”

Geneseo drivers are no different from those across New York in regards to texting behind the wheel.

“It’s here. It’s everywhere,” Osganian said.

Osganian related these stricter laws to the implementation of laws requiring the use of seatbelts. While many people initially refused to comply with the seatbelt laws, this trend eventually changed.

“I think that the cell phone law is going to be the same thing. Now everybody’s on the cell phone, but we’ll see that curve over the next few years, with people getting off the phone,” Osganian said.

Only time will tell whether these additions to the law will make a significant difference on the roadways.

“We encourage everybody to drive safely,” O’Donnell said. “Text messages can wait.”