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NY should get tough on all texting drivers, not just young ones

A first-time texting while driving offense will now

A first-time texting while driving offense will now cost five points on your license -- up from three points -- as well as a fine of $230, added for texting or use of any electronic device. Credit: iStock

Everyone with a cellphone knows that texting while driving is dangerous. The bad news is that many of us do it anyway. Sometimes, the consequences are disastrous. In Suffolk, a 54-year-old man was charged this week with criminally negligent homicide in the death of another driver. Prosecutors say his truck crossed into oncoming traffic while he was texting his girlfriend.

New York State recently boosted fines for all drivers for texting while driving and toughened specific penalties for drivers younger than 21; a first offense brings a 120-day license suspension, and a second within six months means a one-year suspension. Those are good steps, but they're not enough. License suspension should apply to all drivers, not just young adults.

Texting while driving is more than a teen problem. We all see that every day we drive. Sending or receiving one message takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's long enough to cover a football field. Try driving that far with your eyes closed. Texting increases by 23 times the risk of a crash or near-crash.

New York is one of 44 states that ban texting while driving. All but four have tougher laws for young adults, but none suspend older drivers' licenses for first offenses. New York should lead the way. Texting while driving is a 5-point violation; 11 points in 18 months can lead to a suspension. But it's not automatic and it's not for a first offense. Some argue that such a suspension could leave someone unable to get to work, or to a doctor's appointment. Exactly. It's a strong deterrent.

And there's a lot to deter: 98 percent of drivers who text on a daily basis say they know texting while they drive is dangerous, but 75 percent do it anyway. It's time to put a stop to this risky business.