Lawmakers approve road safety bills

Sandi Vega tends a makeshift memorial for her

Sandi Vega tends a makeshift memorial for her daughter Brittany Vega, 14, who was killed while crossing Sunrise Highway on her way to school. (April 26, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

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State legislators Tuesday approved a bill that beefs up enforcement of texting while driving. The legislators also announced an agreement to change the way many roads are designed, to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Assembly also gave final approval Tuesday night to a bill that would establish a protocol for public schools to deal with concussions or mild traumatic brain injuries. The bill, which passed the Senate on Monday, requires injured students to stop athletic activity immediately and wait at least 24 hours and be examined by a physician before they can play again.

The Senate passed the texting bill Tuesday and the Assembly was expected to follow Tuesday night. The bill would give police the authority to pull over people using a portable electronic device while behind the wheel. Currently, law enforcement can cite a driver for texting only in connection with another offense such as speeding or running a red light.

"More people, young people especially, are texting while driving and more of them are dying as a result of it," said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset).

The legislation would make texting while driving a primary offense rather than a secondary offense. Violators could be fined up to $150.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) said Tuesday that he had an agreement with the Assembly and the governor's office for his "Complete Streets" legislation. The bill, which is expected to be voted on by Friday, would require pedestrian and bicyclist safety to be considered when designing roads and transportation facilities that use state and federal funding.

Fuschillo said the bill grew out of the death of Brittany Vega, a 14-year-old who was killed while crossing Sunrise Highway on her way to school in Wantagh last September.

"Out of a tragedy is coming an initiative that is entirely positive," Fuschillo said. "This is a first. If there's any use of state or federal monies, municipalities must use the complete street design principles."

Brittany's mother, Sandi Vega, said she gathered over 4,000 signatures for a petition supporting the bill, and wrote a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

"I'm excited beyond belief," Vega said on hearing that an agreement had been reached. "It really means a lot to me. Undoubtedly, it'll save lives, and that's the whole purpose."

A spokesman for Cuomo didn't immediately respond to a query about the bills.

With Jennifer Maloney

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Vote

Should the Legislature pass the “Complete Streets” bill which focuses on pedestrian safety?

Yes. Will improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. No. Waste of taxpayer money.

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