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New penalties for young drivers using cellphones

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday an

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday an increase in the penalty for texting while driving. (May 31, 2013) Credit: AP

Young drivers on Long Island and across the state now face a 60-day suspension when caught texting or using a handheld cellphone on the road under a law Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed Monday.

Those traffic violations already carried fines.

"We want young drivers to know this is not OK," Cuomo said. "Inattention and inexperience can be a death sentence."

The legislation approved by the Senate and Assembly applies to drivers with permits and probationary or junior licenses. Such drivers now face a 60-day suspension for a first offense. A second conviction within six months will revoke a probationary license for six months and a junior license for another 60 days.

To some Long Islanders, it's a sanction whose time has come.

"There's a lot of inexperienced drivers who are young and texting," said Don Manning, 55, of Wantagh. "Even experienced drivers can have issues with texting and driving."

Sonali Lekhi, 17, of Dix Hills, said she has a regular license now, so it wouldn't affect her -- but she does back the law.

"I think it's a good idea so they stop texting, because it's very tempting," she said.

Michael Tebbe, 27, of Wheatley Heights, said it's a fair consequence, yet not so restrictive that people would fight it.

"I think it'll have an effect, but I don't think people will complain about it, either," he said. "Texting and driving is not a smart move."

Marianne Sheehan, 26, of Northport, said that maybe the penalty will get everyone thinking about texting and driving, not just teens. "There's got to be consequences," she said. "It's something that's so preventable but dangerous. As much as everyone blames teens, adults are guilty of it, too."

The number of cellphone-related crashes more than doubled from 2005 to 2011, New York State reported.

Under Cuomo's direction, the Department of Motor Vehicles also raised the number of license points for any driver's conviction for improper cellphone use from three to five, the same as for reckless driving. Getting 11 points within 18 months results in a suspended license.

With Zachary R. Dowdy and AP

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