Suffolk County and Babylon Town residents are about to get a reminder not to text while driving, and it's going to come from the vehicles around them.
County and town officials Monday announced a new initiative aimed at stopping distracted driving. More than 1,000 county-owned and 350 town-owned vehicles will now sport decals warning drivers to keep their eyes on the road.
"We need to change the culture on this," said Tim Sini, assistant deputy county executive for public safety. "It's still viewed as somewhat innocent behavior, but yet it's deadly."
Sini got the idea from a suggestion made by a Lindenhurst resident while he was doing community outreach. The decals were provided for free by the Texting Awareness Foundation, a national nonprofit based in Bohemia. Made to look like stop signs, the decals read in bold letters "Stop Texting & Driving."
The decals will "help to remind every person, every day, not to text and drive," said Rocco Panetta, the group's founder. Panetta started the nonprofit five years ago after noticing bad driving habits while on the road as a salesman.
At a news conference Monday at Babylon Town Hall, Miller Place resident Karen Torres spoke about how her father was a victim of distracted driving nine years ago. State Department of Transportation worker Patrick Mapleson was filling potholes on Sunrise Highway in Eastport when he was struck by a cement truck driver who was distracted by a falling water bottle. The accident came a day after the Ridge resident celebrated his 66th birthday.
"It doesn't matter how long you've been driving or how safe of a driver you are," Torres said. "It's about those . . . seconds that you chose to take your eyes off the road that matters."
The decals, she said after the news conference, will be a "constant reminder" to people to keep their eyes on the road.
"It's really sad that cellphones have taken control of our lives," she said. "Why have text messages become more of a priority than someone's life?"