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Lawmakers Consider Making Texting While Driving A Primary Offense

Aiming to strengthen an existing law that bans text messaging while driving, New York is making a push to follow in the steps of 29 other states to make texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, the offense receives only secondary enforcement, meaning that individuals may not be stopped for the infraction unless the officer observes the driver committing another primary offense, such as speeding.

New York passed a ban on texting while driving in 2009, after an increase in fatal accidents involving teenagers. However, the law that passed at the time made it only a secondary offense, while speaking on a hand-held device while driving was made a primary offense.

Recognizing that texting is equally as dangerous-if not more so-as talking on a cell phone while driving, the New York legislature is attempting to fix this anomaly in the law. Out of the 33 states that have laws banning texting while driving, only four make it a secondary offense instead of primary.

Enforcing such a law is difficult, regardless of whether it receives primary or secondary enforcement. For practical reasons, drivers hold their phones low to text, usually in their laps, below the window line of the vehicle and often out of sight of the police. This makes it challenging for law enforcement to make a stop and issue a citation to try to curb the dangers of this vehicle accident causing practice.

Some states that have made text messaging while driving a primary offense, however, do show an increase in citations. One such example is Washington State, where there was an increase of 143 percent in citations for the last six months of 2010 when compared to the first half of the year. This difference is being attributed to the change in the ban from secondary to primary enforcement.

New Jersey also showed a leap from 1,000 citations issued monthly to 10,000 per month after a texting ban was added to the cell phone ban law, and violations were changed from secondary to primary enforcement.

New York’s own history in making it a primary offense to drive while talking on a handheld device should offer proof that changing the enforcement of the texting ban should increase the number of citations issued, thus decreasing the number of distracted drivers due to catching drivers in the act an serving as a deterrent. A look at the numbers from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles shows that in 2010, only 3,235 tickets were given out for secondary texting violations, whereas 332,000 citations were issued for primary hand-held cell phone violations by drivers.

The New York legislature’s goal is to reduce the number of car accidents by reducing driver distraction, and thus make the roads safer for everyone. They believe that one way to achieve this result is to close the loophole in the existing texting while driving law.


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