New York Punishes Texting While Driving, But Problem Persists

New York Punishes Texting While Driving, But Problem Persists

New York lawmakers increased punishment for drivers caught on their phones, as distracted driving persists despite escalating laws against it.

New York strictly enforced ticketing last year in an effort to curb smartphone-induced accidents, using tougher legislation crafted after an uptick in distracted driving-related incidents, many of which proved fatal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced more than 118,000 tickets issued since the law went into effect, doubling the previous ticketing numbers.

New York joins a growing roster of U.S. cities drafting harsh rules to curtail distracted driving, as fiddling with phones is cited as a cause for a growing number of accidents. Lawmakers face a challenge quelling mobile phone use in cars, as the number of habitual daily texters continues to increase, despite tough enforcement.

Motorists are growing accustomed to many smartphone features, so ticketing alone may not convince drivers to put down their phones. Aside from texting, drivers must now resist the allure of constant access to social media and other websites, GPS capabilities, and a myriad of gaming and entertainment options, all available on their mobile device.

Apps like Facebook distract as much as traditional texting. Recognizing the growing capabilities of smartphones, New York’s law prohibits general phone use, a step up from Pennsylvania’s anti-texting laws, which drew fire for still allowing handheld phones for purposes other than texting.

“We currently have one of the strongest anti-distracted driving laws in the country,” said Barbara Fiala, commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

As ticketing skyrockets, however, a corresponding drop in distracted drivers has not yet been documented, posing questions of how effecting legal policies are on the practice.

The American Automobile Association of New York and other car-safety groups called for additional penalties beyond the ticketing, advocating a system that shuts down mobile technology in the car after four violations.

Car-safety advocates across the country are pushing for multi-faceted campaigns to prevent distracted driving. Even private citizens feel compelled to join the campaign, as was the case with Mike McNeilly, who took matters into his own hands and painted an enormous billboard over the busiest highway in the U.S. with a “Don’t Text and Drive” warning.

For their part, carriers are introducing services to prevent distracted driving. T-Mobile created “DriveSmart” to curb customers’ urges to answer calls and text in the car, as the system automatically blocks incoming communication.

Auto insurance companies are also exploring preventative measures, like considering to refuse coverage for drivers in accidents caused by preventable distracted driving.

Tougher punishments will likely play a role in discouraging texting in the car, although stamping it out altogether will prove more difficult. Consumers may need more persuasion to put down their beloved handsets. Ticketing alone is unlikely to deter users from picking up their phones, scrolling through social media, text messages, or looking at their GPS. Keeping up on the latest tweets may prove too tempting for commuters, especially those with enough money to write off a ticket.

In this light, law enforcement efforts alone may not be enough. The National Transportation Safety Board recommends a total ban on mobile technology in the car, but its recommendation is likely too sweeping to draw widespread approval. Drivers most likely need campaigns aimed at altering cultural acceptance, along with the ticketing efforts, to put down their phones.

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