August 9, 2013

Don’t type and drive!

We welcome a new administrative order toughening up the penalties in New York State for texting behind the steering wheel.

If you think you can safely text message while driving — that is, thumb-type on the miniscule keyboard of your cellphone or BlackBerry without endangering pedestrians and other drivers on the road, not to mention any passengers in your car — stop reading this newspaper now and seek help for denial immediately.

You’re kidding yourself. It’s impossible for any mere mortal to peer at a tiny screen and type with one or two thumbs, hands on or off the steering wheel, as he whizzes along at 30, 40 or more miles an hour and remain aware of traffic and pedestrians. If you text, no matter how deftly, you’re a menace on the road.

But studies by the National Organization for Youth Safety show that 77 percent of young adults are very or somewhat confident that they can safely text and drive and that 55 percent claim it’s easy enough to do. Not to tar drivers with an ageist brush: about 27 percent of drivers over 25 admit to texting and driving.

Our theory is that most drivers know it’s unsafe and come up with a variety of excuses. I’m only reading a message, they say, which is much safer than composing one. Or they hold the cellphone near the windshield, supposedly allowing them to keep their eyes on the road. Or they insist they only look at their cellphone at stop signs and red lights. They insist they’re good enough drivers to look away for a moment. And there’s always the “just this once” justification.

Stop!

Studies show that texting while driving can be lethal. A Federal Highway Administration analysis of truckers showed that drivers are 23 times more likely to crash if they’re texting than if they’re not. Texting engages the driver visually, manually and cognitively, creating a deadly trio of distractions. A texting driver takes his eyes off the road for about five seconds to read or send a text. And at highway speeds, that’s long enough to cover the length of a football field.

As of 2009, fewer than 20 states prohibited texting while driving. New York’s debut law that year imposed minor fines and a negligible enforcement scheme. Police were allowed to penalize drivers for the offense only if they were stopped for another infraction, like a broken taillight or speeding.

A new administrative order recently increased the penalties for texting while driving. A first-time offense will cost drivers five points on their license with a $230 fine ($150 plus a mandatory $80 surcharge). Probationary and junior license holders will lose their driving privileges for 60 days if convicted of the offense. And beginning last July 4, anti-texting enforcement officers started riding around in unmarked SUVs that are high enough to look down into cars to see if drivers have cellphone in hand.

Drivers who accumulate 11 points on their licenses within 18 months face suspension, and their insurance costs are sure to increase significantly. We think the penalties are appropriate.

In 2011, 23 percent of all traffic accidents nationwide involved cellphones — that’s 1,300,000 crashes.

We suggest that parents of teenage and young adult drivers should discuss the perils on the road and that cellphone-related danger could be completely avoidable.

These days, driving while intoxicated is unaccepted socially — and more vigorously enforced than ever. But we remember the benighted days not so long ago when partygoers and restaurant patrons simply drank anyway, never thinking to appoint a designated driver or to wait a while after drinking before pulling out the car keys. The public gradually caught on to the notion that drinking and driving don’t mix, with stricter vehicle and traffic laws providing the necessary behavioral conditioning. Texting and driving, though equally dangerous, is a new phenomenon, and the law and public opinion haven’t kept pace with the times. We hope a combined informational campaign and stiffer penalties — along with a few suspended licenses here and there — will raise awareness about texting.

It’s pretty simple: the critical component of safe driving is keeping your eyes on the road. And your mind, of course, which, if you’re texting, is busy composing messages. Texting, tweeting and emailing is distracting and compromises everyone’s safety. If you can’t resist the urge to reach for your cellphone, put it in the back seat for the ride or turn it off.

The AAA’s Cognitive Distraction in the Vehicle report is posted at ny.aaa.com/Safety/DriverSafety/Distracted-Driving.aspx. It’s worth a read.

Here’s an astonishing statistic: In 2011, there were more than 25,000 cellphone-related accidents in which someone was injured or killed. The same year, there were 4,600 accidents due to drunk driving. Enough said.

Or texted.


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NEWSSTAND LOCATIONS

Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

  3. Sam Parker Country Market — 257 Westchester Avenue    


Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    


Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


Katonah

  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road


Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    


Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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