Editorial: Get tougher on texting drivers

In New York State, the number of tickets In New York State, the number of tickets written for texting while driving increased from 4,569 in 2010 to 20,958 in 2011. Photo Credit: AP

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Studies show drivers are 23 times more likely to have an accident while driving if texting. Even more shocking, texting while driving is six times more dangerous than driving drunk, according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.

Yet any driver who's ever glanced out a window while rolling down the roadways knows the practice remains epidemic. The laws against texting while driving need to be harsher if we want this behavior to stop.

It's now a primary offense, meaning drivers can be stopped for it even if they've done nothing else wrong, and lose three points on their licenses. But the fines for distracted driving are still too low, with no legal minimum. Maximum penalties are $100 for talking on a handheld device (also a risk, and a common practice) and $150 for texting, even for repeat offenders.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is now proposing that fines for texting or talking on a handheld phone while driving be increased to a minimum of $50, and a maximum of $550. We think he's on the right road.

Survey after survey shows people understand how dangerous these habits are, and think they should be illegal. Yet the same surveys show that many of the people who know it's wrong to text or talk while driving still do it.

It's very hard to prove these offenses, so if we want the law to be a deterrent, we have to make the penalties serious when we do prosecute the crimes.

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