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NY Senators Push To Toughen Texting-At-Wheel Law

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – The state’s Senate Republicans promised Tuesday to pass legislation that would allow police to stop and ticket motorists for texting while driving.

WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs With Driver Reaction

“All they have to do is see you holding your phone,” said Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Long Island Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor.

Under the legislation, police would be able to stop drivers for that offense alone since it’s already a primary traffic offense to talk on a hand-held phone while driving in New York. Hands-free phones are permitted.

One driver supports the legislation.

“You take your eyes off the road for a second, that’s not dangerous?” the man said to WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs. “Okay, so when you’re texting, it’s more than a second. How dangerous is it?”

Using a portable electronic device while at the wheel of a moving vehicle is currently a secondary offense, which means that a person can’t be pulled over solely for driving while texting. Instead, it must be tacked on to another offense like speeding.

Legislation sponsored by a dozen Republicans, who have majority control of the Senate, would upgrade it to a primary offense. Marcellino said it would pass Tuesday with a fine of $150 and penalizing drivers with two points on their license.

“When you’re behind the wheel of a 2-ton missile, you have a responsibility to yourself and to everyone else,” Marcellino said.

Senators acknowledged that texting was more common among young people. They cited a University of North Texas Health Science Center study that attributed 16,141 deaths nationally to texting while driving between 2001 and 2007 and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute studies concluding that a driver is at 23 times higher risk of being involved in a crash or near miss while text messaging.

A group of Senate Democrats introduced a similar bill. A companion measure is pending in the Assembly.

Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Democrat from Nassau County and sponsor, promised Tuesday he’d get the bill passed in that chamber or he’d walk out.

Weisenberg, a former police officer who described some deadly crashes he’d seen, said nobody had come to him opposing the legislation.

According to the American Automobile Association, driver distraction lasting more than two seconds doubles the risk of a crash. John Corlett, who chairs AAA’s Legislative Committee, said texting is getting even more rampant, with some two trillion messages sent in 2010 in the U.S.

Republican senators said Erie and Monroe counties have passed similar measures, but they want a statewide law.

The website handsfreeinfo.com lists more than a dozen other New York counties where local legislators made sending or receiving text messages while driving a primary offense, as well as 30 states.

The Post-Standard reported that a federally funded crackdown April 7-16 for distracted driving in the Syracuse area resulted in 1,371 tickets to people using a cellphone and 182 tickets to people texting or using an electronic device.

Are you for or against this proposed legislation? Sound off in our comments section.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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