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July 15, 2013

N.Y. wise to take firm stance on texting

The Daily Star

---- — “It can wait.”

That’s the simple message behind one effort to keep young people from texting while driving.

It’s a simple idea, really; and yet one that can seem too hard to follow. For many people, their smartphone is a lifeline of sorts, not only for social interactions, but also for what seem to be vital pieces of information. 

Mom, I’m running late. Honey, can you pick up some milk on your way home? Son, don’t forget your dentist appointment. 

These messages are important, sure. But are they important enough for us to risk our lives?

We don’t think so. And neither does Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently announced a summer crackdown on distracted driving throughout the state.

“Texting-while-driving is a dangerous practice that will not to be tolerated on New York’s roads and highways,” Cuomo said in a recent media release. “There is no excuse for distracted driving, and with this increased enforcement push using undercover vehicles, New Yorkers can be sure that the State Police are watching the road, even if other drivers are not.”

Under Cuomo’s new guidelines, the penalty for distracted driving has increased from three points to five points on a driver’s license. In addition, young and new drivers who are caught face lengthier license suspension and revocation periods.

There are those who scoff at the idea of singling out cellphone users for harsher penalties. They argue that there are plenty of things that distract drivers’ attention, from fiddling with the radio to talking with other people in the car. Why should cellphones be such a focal point?

First of all, while New York state law does specifically ban drivers from using cellphones and similar electronic devices while driving, it also accounts for other forms of distracted driving.

Secondly, studies have shown cellphone use to be a major contributing factor in accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports on its distracted driving website that more than 20 percent of the fatal crashes involving teens in 2011 could be directly linked to cellphone use.

It’s tempting to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and say, “Well, it’ll be all right this one time,” or, “I’m sure I can handle it.” And maybe it will be all right; maybe you can handle it. But is that risk really worth taking? 

As the NHTSA says, “One text or call could wreck it all” — meaning, your life or someone else’s.

We applaud the state of New York for taking a firm stand on this. The harsher penalties should make people think twice about picking up a cellphone while behind the wheel. And if it saves one life, it’s well worth it.