From texting while driving and using a handheld cell phone to fiddling with the radio or simply daydreaming, distractions while driving come in all forms. And such distractions can often prove deadly.
Studies done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers who use hand-held cell phones while driving are four times as likely to get into a car crash resulting in a serious injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day 16 people die and another 1,300 are injured in distracted driving accidents. In 2009, 18.6 percent of car accidents in New York involved distracted driving.
And law enforcement officials believe that these numbers might actually be on the low side, as many drivers involved in accidents probably won't admit that they were distracted and using their cell phone at the time of the accident. Troy Police Captain John Cooney noted, "There is no road test police can give to see if [drivers] are telling the truth."
New York police, notably in the Capital Region, have seen an increased number of drivers who abruptly swerve, cross over yellow lines or rear end the car in front of them. Officers suspect that drivers are texting or using their cell phones while behind the wheel. But when pulled over, drivers will not admit it and officers cannot check a driver's cell phone without probable cause.
The Crack Down: Driver Violation Points for Distracted Driving
In an effort to curb these distracted driving habits, the New York Department of Motor Vehicles has started imposing stricter penalties on drivers caught using handheld devices while driving.
Previously, cell phone violations simply resulted in a fine. State troopers cracking down on accidents on the New York State Thruway have issued an increasing number of cell phone tickets: from 5,405 tickets in 2008 to 8,172 in 2010. With growing numbers of cell phone citations being written across the state, lawmakers felt that it was time for harsher consequences.
Now, in addition to a fine, drivers caught using handheld cell phones while behind the wheel receive a two-point penalty on the NY driver violation point system. Two points can have a definite impact on a driver's record. Once drivers receive six points in an 18-month period, they will be required to pay a driver responsibility assessment. For many drivers, that simply means one speeding ticket for 15 miles over the speed limit and one cell phone ticket in a year and a half will result in an annual assessment of $100 a year for three years.
The law enforcing the two-point penalty was enacted in the middle of February 2011, so only time will tell whether New York's latest efforts to curb distracted driving will pay off.