Editorial: Crackdown on texting while driving can save lives

An man works his phone as he drives An man works his phone as he drives through traffic in Dallas. (Feb. 26, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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There's a lot for New Yorkers to like about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's push for tougher texting-while-driving laws, and you can be sure that many new drivers won't send so much as an LOL when they learn that a quick text on the road could cost them dearly.

By his own authority, the governor increased the penalty for texting behind the wheel from three points to five on June 1 (11 points leads to a suspended license). At Cuomo's direction, state police will increase enforcement, and local forces should consider doing the same.

Related in the governor's road map for safer roads is a bill approved Wednesday by the State Legislature. Under this law, probationary drivers -- those with fewer than 6 months' experience -- and junior drivers younger than 18, would have their licenses suspended for 60 days for texting while driving. That's in addition to the standard minimum $150 fine and points on their licenses.

New York's driving laws already target those with the least experience by meting out harsher penalties for offenses such as speeding, reckless driving and similar traffic violations. This proposal adds texting-while-driving to the list.

As many as 43 percent of teenage drivers admit to texting behind the wheel, according to the Pediatric Academic Societies, a research organization. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent -- at 55 mph -- of driving the length of a football field while blind. And as use of mobile devices has risen, there's been a 143 percent rise in cellphone-related crashes in New York State from 2005-11.

Using a smartphone -- or any other handheld device -- while driving isn't smart at all. Hopefully these changes will drive home that point. If not, the fines will have to get higher and the suspensions longer.

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