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DA Kathleen Rice: Nassau could lead battle against texting while driving

Nassau County district attorney candidate, Kathleen Rice. (Sept.

Nassau County district attorney candidate, Kathleen Rice. (Sept. 5, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau could be a state testing ground in fighting the "deadly epidemic" of texting while driving, District Attorney Kathleen Rice wrote in a pitch to the governor.

In applauding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's work on the issue, Rice said she wants to partner with him to turn New York into "an even tougher national leader."

"We have an opportunity in New York to become a model for how to address this growing national problem," she wrote in a letter dated Wednesday. " . . . I am more than willing to offer my jurisdiction for a new anti-texting-while-driving pilot and educational efforts that, if successful, can be replicated across the state and country."

Texting while driving has been especially apparent in young drivers, with some studies suggesting it's the leading cause of death among teenagers. One out of five car crashes in New York State are caused by distracted driving, Cuomo has said.

Rice did not propose a specific pilot program but outlined several policy and enforcement changes she believes can be implemented quickly to help save lives.

She suggested outlawing texting while stopped at lights or during traffic snarls. "This legislative oversight has barred New York from receiving federal traffic safety grants that we could sorely use," Rice wrote.

Texting while driving should be added to vehicular assault laws, she also said. Prosecutors and courts have a tough job applying negligence and reckless- driving laws in texting cases, she wrote, and they will "almost certainly" fall short at times in seeking justice.

As president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, Rice said she looks forward to partnering with her counterparts and the governor.

Cuomo's office said it will review the letter.

The state has tackled the problem on several fronts. Last month, Cuomo announced the creation of "texting zones" on the Long Island Expressway and other highways where drivers can pull off to use their phones.

This summer, tougher state penalties went into effect for those guilty of texting and driving -- five points against a license instead of three, and a minimum fine of $150.


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