Texting while driving led to the deaths of 44 teens on Long Island and 51 others in New York City in the last five years, and the practice should be banned nationally, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the Department of Transportation figures as he called for support for his bill that would strip states of federal highway funds unless they enact texting-while-driving bans.
New York State's ban on texting-while-driving takes effect Nov. 1, and both Nassau and Suffolk counties enacted bans last year. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., also banned the practice, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
"Most people know that texting while driving is dangerous, but they don't think it will happen to them," Schumer said. "These statistics bring home the need to have a national law."
Local police agencies and Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) who wrote Suffolk's texting-while-driving ban, Sunday could not recall any Long Island cases of a traffic fatality linked to texting. But Schneiderman said the activity is too dangerous to be legal.
"From my personal experience trying to text and drive, it clearly impaired my ability to focus on the road," he said. "It clearly was a dangerous activity that should be prohibited."
Schumer's legislation, introduced in July and now before the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, would require states to make texting while driving a primary offense. Under New York's law, it will be a secondary offense, meaning a driver must be pulled over for something else to receive a texting ticket.
States that do not enact a texting bill would lose 25 percent of their federal highway funding.
Sunday's announcement comes on the heels of a distracted driving summit held in Washington last week during which President Barack Obama issued an executive order forbidding federal employees from texting while driving.
The AAA is seeking to have texting behind the wheel banned in every state by 2013, said AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr.
"It's upsetting that people are so darn dumb that we need a law like this in the first place," Sinclair said.
"They drive and do this thing and it drives me crazy," McCarthy said. "They just become addicted to it."
With Michael Amon