New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday unveiled a plan to identify existing Park-n-Ride facilities, rest stops and parking areas on the state’s highways as “Texting Zones.”
There’s nothing now — other than impatience — preventing drivers from pulling off the road into those areas to read and send text messages, but with the new initiative, appropriate signs will coax them to do so.
Under the program, a total of 298 signs will be located along major highways across the state, notifying motorists of 91 Text Stops.
Issued Tix Jump 365 Percent
“New York State is continuing to use every tool at its disposal to combat texting-while-driving,” said Cuomo.
“In addition to tougher penalties, new detection methods for State Police and ongoing public outreach efforts, we are now launching special Texting Zones to allow motorists to pull over and use their phones,” he continued.
“With this new effort, we are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road because your text can wait until the next Texting Zone,” Cuomo added.
In conjunction with the Texting Zone announcement, Cuomo released the state’s latest distracted driving enforcement statistics. They showed a 365 percent increase in tickets issued — 21,580 in the summer of 2013 from 5,208 in the summer of 2012.
During a period from July 4 to Sept. 2, the state issued 16,027 cellphone tickets and 5,553 texting tickets. Only hands-free cellphone use is allowed in New York. That compares with 4,284 cellphone write-ups and 924 texting citations during the same period in 2012.
Crackdown on Distractions
“Our top priority is keeping motorists and pedestrians safe on New York’s roadways, and the new distracted driving law has helped us to do our job better,” said New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico.
“We told motorists we would be out there looking for violators and we found far too many,” he continued. “The accidents that result from the use of handheld devices are completely avoidable, which is why we will continue to target distracted drivers who engage in this dangerous activity.”
Earlier this year, New York adopted tougher measures to curb distracted driving by increasing the penalty for the practice from three to five points on a driver’s license and increasing the license suspension and revocation periods for young and new drivers cited for distracted driving.
2012 was the safest year ever in the 60-year history of the highway system, noted New York State Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas J. Madison.
“We are always looking at new and better ways to make the highway even safer,” Madison said, “and Gov. Cuomo’s Text Stops initiative is an excellent way for drivers to stay in touch while recognizing the dangers of using mobile devices while driving.”
Most Dangerous Task
New York’s attempt to induce drivers to pull off the road before texting may be a first.
“To my knowledge, this is the first state that’s tried to repurpose its existing rest zones and other parking areas along its freeways to reinforce with people that they should wait before sending or reading a text,” Bill Windsor, associate vice president for consumer safety at Nationwide, told TechNewsWorld.
“Of all the things you can do with a cellphone, everyone agrees that texting while driving is the most dangerous,” Windsor said.
There are three major distractions while driving — taking your hands off the wheel, taking your eyes off the road, and taking your mind off your driving.
“Texting encompasses all three of those distractions,” Windsor observed. “If someone is taking their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, it increases crash risk 23 times.”
Will repackaging rest areas as Texting Zones lure texters off the state’s highways?
“The signage alone will be a helpful reminder to people,” Marissa Shorenstein, New York State President of AT&T, told TechNewWorld. “The concept of saying to people, ‘You rest for a lot of things — to use a rest room, to take a break from driving — this is just another reason to rest,’ is a good one.”