New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during press conference announcing Public Trust Act.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants tougher penalties for texting-while-driving.

With distracted driving crashes in New York State outpacing alcohol-related crashes in recent years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has decided to push an effort to get tougher on drivers texting behind the wheel—and it all starts this weekend.

The governor has directed the Department of Motor Vehicles to increase the number of points for convicted texting-while-driving offenders to five from three, starting Saturday, he announced at a press conference in Manhattan on Friday.

Cuomo also unveiled his own legislation that if passed by the state legislature would result in 60-day license suspensions for young drivers with probationary and junior licenses who are caught sending messages to their friends while behind the wheel—something 43 percent of teenagers admit to doing.

“Inattention and inexperience is a deadly combination—one this legislation seeks to deter,” Cuomo said. “We are urging young and inexperienced drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, while putting stronger penalties in place for drivers of all ages who violate the law and put others in danger.”

“No parent,” he added, “should have to experience losing a child at the hands of a text message.”

The governor Friday used the forum to portray texting-while-driving as a growing—and dangerous—trend at the same time that alcohol-related driving has declined.

Distracted driving crashes have increased while alcohol-related crashes has gone down, officials said.
Distracted driving crashes have increased while alcohol-related crashes has gone down, officials said.

There was a 143 percent increase in cell phone-related crashes in New York State from 2005 to 2011 while alcohol-related crashes dropped 18 percent over that same time. And distracted driving was also blamed for more than 25,000 crashes statewide in 2011, compared to 4,628 caused by alcohol.

Drivers that take their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds—the average time it takes to send or receive a text—while travelling 55 mph is the equivalent of driving an entire football field while blind, the governor noted.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last month that said more than nine people are killed each day in the United States in distracted driving-related crashes. Also, inexperienced drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In addition to his proposed legislation, the governor also directed state police to increase enforcement starting this weekend.

“Distracted drivers will not be tolerated in New York State,” New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said in a statement. “Drivers who text or talk on mobile devices while behind the wheel not only take their attention from the road, but also put lives at risk. Our message is clear—motorists who use a cell phone or electronic device while driving will be ticketed.”

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Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: Twitter: rashedmian