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Cuomo backs crackdown on texting drivers

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference announcing a Peace Bridge deal with Canada in Buffalo. (June 26, 2013) Credit: AP

A New York State Police crackdown on distracted driving that began July 4 is taking aim at motorists who text behind the wheel with the goal of cutting down on the number of crashes by people not paying attention, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

Troopers in Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement (CITE) vehicles, which are built on higher than average platforms to make drivers who text easier to detect, will patrol highways statewide, Cuomo said Monday at a news conference in Uniondale.

The effort will be funded by close to $1 million and ends Sept. 7, officials said.

"We have a crisis of distracted driving," Cuomo said. "It's getting worse, it's not getting better."

On June 1, the penalty for texting and driving went from three points on a license to five. On July 1, legislation passed that suspends licenses for young or new drivers who text and drive.

The SUVs will appear in various colors to blend in better with traffic. There also will be an increased number of troopers in marked cars, officials said.

Nassau County police will also step up enforcement of texting and driving laws, with "intensified patrols," said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Since the initiative started, state police have issued more than 2,000 tickets for distracted driving, said Col. Patricia Groeber, a state police deputy superintendent field commander.

During the July 4 weekend, state police issued 486 tickets for distracted driving, including 51 on Long Island, officials said.

Cuomo compared texting and driving to past problems of drinking and driving and drivers not wearing seat belts.

Education, peer pressure, and in particular, enforcing laws changed those behaviors, and "the law is going to change this behavior, if it is enforced," Cuomo said.

Texting while driving is especially apparent in young drivers, and with 43 percent of teens admitting to texting while driving, it is a "demographic wave crashing on society," Cuomo said.

One in five crashes in New York State are caused by distracted driving, Cuomo said.

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