New York ups the ante on texting while driving; Georgia there, too.

Erie County, New York got a jump on much of the rest of the state when they passed a law against texting while driving in 2009, and it’s pretty obvious that their law enforcement are all over following through on it. Between mid-July of last year and mid-February of this year, Erie County handed out 662 texting tickets; in doing so, they lead counties across upstate New York as well as heavily-populated communities in Nassau (Long Island) and Suffolk (the Bronx) Counties.

Sgt. Dan Dytchkowskyj, the commander of the Erie County Sheriff’s Traffic Bureau, says, “The numbers show we are doing a great job in enforcing the law. I don’t think we have more people in Erie County texting than in the rest of New York State. It’s just that the local policing agencies have been enforcing the law. We have more experience, but these other counties will catch up.”

Since July, when the more stringent New York state law regarding texting while driving went into effect, Nassau County has doled out 202 tickets while Suffolk County has issued 476. In comparison to Erie’s numbers, Kings County, New York and Queens issued more citations, with numbers of 749, 1,375 and 1099 respectively.

The new law carries a $150 fine and three points on a driver’s license.

Kelly Cline, a parent and a citizen of West Seneca, is pleased with her county’s stats. She was personally notified about them by Senator Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo), who is a former Erie County legislator.  Cline rated such personal attention because she enlisted Kennedy’s assistance in a push for stronger measures against texting while driving. Cline lost a son, then 20, in 2007; the car accident responsible for his death was attributed to texting.

In November 2009 her efforts to make texting while driving a ‘primary offense’ came to fruition in Erie County. It was enacted at state level in July of 2011. While this is a triumph for Cline, she views this as  merely a first step. The next one is to get it enforced. From Cline’s point of view, this is occurring.

“Law enforcement just took it and ran, and it’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “I’m thrilled that law enforcement here has really stepped up.” The initial knock of three points on a driver’s license and up to $150 in fines serves as deterrent as well, Cline believes. She doesn’t think that it’s going to take a second time in most cases. “It makes people think twice. If they’re foolish enough to do it and get a ticket, there’s a stiff penalty.”

The stricter state law doesn’t cover just texting. If a driver is holding an electronic communication device then police are allowed to make a traffic stop. Drivers can make calls via voice commands as long as their hands stay on the wheel and their eyes stay on the road.  Police in Erie County have issued 3,749 cell phone tickets total since last July.

State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala expects the number of tickets issued for cell phone offenses to rise across the state as law enforcement become more adept at spotting motorists in the act.

“As with any change, it will take a while, just like it did with seat belt education and enforcement, to have the dangers of distracted driving truly register with the public,” she says. “But if we all work toward the goal of eliminating the use of personal electronic devices while driving, I am confident we can be successful.”

Fiala believes that education –not just enforcement– is paramount. “The DMV is working to raise awareness among motorists, particularly teen drivers, through the prelicensing courses, videos in the schools, use of the Web and other efforts.”

“We believe that increased education about the dangers of using a cellphone or texting while driving is a key element in changing human behavior statewide.”

Incidentally, Georgia enacted anti-texting while driving legislation in 2010.

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