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First talking, now texting - State takes steps to ban text messaging while driving

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If you want to flip anything while driving around New York, it’s gonna have to be your finger.

Last week, state officials took steps to make sure you won’t be flipping open your cell phone to send a text message, according to some new legislation that has passed the State Senate and is currently being mulled over by the Assembly.

Finding that texting while driving is a dangerous proposition, lawmakers want to prohibit drivers from sending the mini-emails while on the road.

Those caught violating the law face a $100 fine, officials said.

On May 27, the Senate unanimously passed the measure and sent it over to the Assembly, where it is being sponsored by Sunset Park Assemblymember Felix Ortiz.

The Assembly’s Transportation Committee is currently reviewing the legislation to make sure it has merit. Brooklyn legislators on the Transportation Committee include Janele Hyer-Spencer, Alan Maisel, Joan Millman and Nick Perry.

“It’s a good bill and a great idea,” explained Maisel, who said that the legislation had not been put on the committee’s agenda last week. “Personally, I don’t understand how anybody can drive and text people at the same time. If they can do it without getting into an accident, they’re only being very lucky.”

“This bill is a common-sense solution to a problem which is, unfortunately, all too common,” said Ortiz, who cited a recent survey conducted by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company which found that one in five drivers send and receive texts while behind the wheel. A 2007 Harris Interactive poll found that 91 percent of Americans think driving while texting is as dangerous as drunk driving. At least 89 percent of those polled support a ban, officials said.

“We as a people take a very cavalier approach to driver safety, and far too often ignore the basic rules for driving safely,” Ortiz explained. “Banning text messaging while driving will help us to lower the levels of car accidents, and prevent the recurrence of tragedies which often result in the loss of loved ones.”

State Senator Marty Golden, who hailed the Senate’s passage of their bill, called texting while driving “the ultimate distraction.”

“It takes all focus and attention off the road,” Golden said. “Most of the time you’re using two thumbs, plus you’re looking at the screen. If you’re driving, that fraction of a second that you take your eye off the road can be the difference between an accident or not.”

Golden said that last summer five high school graduates were killed in an automobile accident in upstate New York.

According to police, text messages were sent and received on the 17-year-old driver’s cell phone moments before her SUV slammed head-on into a truck.

“This legislation would build upon the current state ban on the use of handheld phones by prohibiting the use of handheld communication devices to send text messages, e-mail, etc. while operating a motor vehicle,” said Antoanela Vaccaro, Manager of Government Affairs for AAA New York. “Clearly, such conduct while driving represents behavior that is more dangerous than using handheld phones and should be prohibited.”

“We must continue to do everything in our power to make our roads safer,” said Golden. “Now is the time to end texting while driving before more of our young people, or anyone else, for that matter, become victims.”

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