Police to motorists: Texts cause wrecks
Ticketing effort this week targets distracted drivers
LOUDONVILLE Alyse Anderson was exactly the kind of driver authorities are trying to target with a new distracted driving initiative.
Only she got the message not after getting a ticket, but after getting into an accident.
The Hoosick Falls High School junior described the accident as a minor one; she rear-ended the car in front of her while returning a text message from a friend.
But she now realizes what she did was dangerous. People could have been injured, or worse.
“I was lucky,” the 17-year-old said. “I was lucky that was it. I could have killed myself or killed someone, simply for a mindless decision to text and drive.”
Anderson was among several speakers Friday at a law enforcement news conference, getting the word out about distracted driving and its consequences.
Those consequences include accidents, both minor and major, from drivers not paying attention to the road.
The consequences can also include a ticket, with drivers having to pay for their text messaging through fines and higher insurance costs.
A targeted law enforcement effort dubbed “Operation Hang Up” began Monday and runs through Sunday. A similar effort last November resulted in the state police writing 800 tickets statewide.
The goal is to get that message across before drivers learn it in the fashion that Anderson learned it.
“Our goal is to try and make people aware that this is a problem that we need to address now,” Maj. William Sprague, State Police Troop G commander, said. “People are dying. People are getting seriously injured. And it’s an easily addressable problem. It’s easy to fix it.
“You just have to not do this while you’re operating a car.”
Sprague cited 2009 statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation that found 5,474 people were killed on roadways nationwide in cases that involved some sort of distracted driving.
According to the federal numbers, 995 of those deaths involved reports of cellphone use as the distraction.
But the exact number of accidents involving cellphone use or text messaging is hard to gauge, according to Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Drivers don’t always admit to using their cellphones or text messaging, Rader said.
“Distracted driving is a big safety problem,” Rader said by phone Monday. “It’s important, though, to address it broadly and not focus solely on cellphone distraction.”
Rader pointed to technology as a possible solution.
Crash avoidance technology constantly scans for obstructions or stopped cars, even when drivers are distracted by their phones, crying children or spilled coffee, Rader said.
Joy Hall, of Schenectady, has been concerned about cellphone use by drivers for some time, speaking about it locally. She repeated those concerns to The Daily Gazette when told of the enhanced enforcement efforts Monday.
“I feel that these people who talk on their cellphones while driving is a safety hazard,” Hall said. “If you’ve got to make a phone call so bad, pull over and park in a parking lot, then do your calling.”
If an officer sees a driver text messaging while driving, that officer can now pull that driver over simply for that offense.
Last summer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law strengthening enforcement of texting-while-driving laws.
The penalty has also been increased from two points on a driver’s license to three.
The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee funds “Operation Hang Up” campaigns through a Distracted Driving Enforcement Grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More efforts are expected in the future.
Text messaging, officials said, is particularly dangerous.
To type and send a text message, it takes mechanical attention, visual attention and cognitive attention, they say.
“Those are exactly the things you use to operate a motor vehicle,” said Dr. Michael Daley of the Albany Medical Center Department of Emergency Medicine.