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Letter: Westchester Gets Tough On Drivers Who Text

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. ? The following letter was submitted by Westchester County District Attorney Janet DeFiore.

To the Editor,

As District Attorney and chief law enforcement officer in Westchester County, I want to share with you what my office has been doing about the danger of distracted driving. This is of particular concern with our younger, less experienced drivers. Last year, more than 3,000 lives were lost in our country in accidents involving distracted driving, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Distracted driving is a public safety issue both nationally and here in Westchester County.

Research says that sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds and in that brief amount of time, a driver going 55 miles an hour can travel nearly the entire length of a football field. We also know that when drivers use a cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, the impact on their reaction time to changes in road conditions is equivalent to driving drunk. The latest focus, but by no means the only source of distraction, is texting while driving. Recent government research indicates that one in three teens admitted to having texted or emailed while driving during a single month.

Last fall, with the support of the Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association and Nationwide Insurance, my office began an educational outreach program aimed at teenage drivers. We began with a public demonstration of the effects of texting while driving, using a driving simulator provided by Nationwide. A member of my staff then visited 17 Westchester County high schools and spoke to students, giving these young drivers a chance to use the simulator. When they texted while “driving” on the simulator, they were able to see the often disastrous results on the screen in front of them. For those of you whose teenager participated in one of our presentations, I hope your son or daughter shared with you what they learned.

We are serious on the enforcement end of districted driving as well. A year ago, in July of 2011, New York law changed so that the use of hand-held devices by drivers became a primary offense, which means that an officer can stop a driver specifically for using a hand-held electronic device. Previously, a ticket was issued only if a driver was stopped for another offense. The change in New York law also broadened the definition of using a hand-held electronic device to include “holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving email, text messages or other electronic data.”

We have a shared responsibility to our community to drive safely ourselves and to model safe driving habits for our children. I urge you to give your children the clear, consistent message that no phone call, text, tweet or email is so important that it cannot wait until we can safely pull over and stop the car.

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