County lawmakers draft anti-texting bill
Inspired by recent accidents, law would treat texting while driving as a primary offense
By Matthew Spina
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Updated: August 15, 2009, 9:49 AM
Two Erie County legislators have proposed a law that bans texting while driving and lets officers stop any driver they see doing it.
In the absence of a statewide law, several counties around the state have gone their own routes to ban texting.
A state bill that has been sent to Gov. David A. Paterson bans texting while driving but lets police and deputies cite drivers for the violation only if they are stopped for some other infraction, such as speeding.
The Erie County proposal, inspired by some horrific crashes in which texting was blamed, makes texting a primary offense that justifies a traffic stop.
“New York State’s law doesn’t have any teeth,” said Erie County Legislator Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, a co-sponsor of the county proposal along with Legislator Timothy Wroblewski, D-West Seneca.
“Frankly, the legislation pending in Albany on this subject does not go far enough,” Wroblewski said. “While it bans the sending and receiving of text messages while driving in New York, the violation is treated as a secondary offense. This means law enforcement must stop a motorist for another violation of New York State law before the motorist can be ticketed for text messaging while driving.”
Their proposal, which sets the fine at $150, contains a clause that nullifies the law if the state or federal governments ever approve a law or regulation that makes texting while driving a primary offense.
The proposal says the Erie County Sheriff’s Office is to enforce the law, but, since county lawmakers cannot affect local police agencies, it says other Erie County agencies may enforce the ban.
County Executive Chris Collins took no position on the law Friday.
With texting is growing as a communications tool, the District of Columbia and 11 states — Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington — have passed laws prohibiting texting while driving.
Another 10 states — Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia — ban teens or new drivers from texting.
Some of the laws restrict it to “secondary enforcement,” meaning police can ticket for texting only if a separate infraction triggers the traffic stop.
In New York State, Albany, Cayuga, Nassau, Onondaga, Schenectady, Suffolk and Westchester counties have passed texting bans. Others have passed resolutions urging the state to avoid what is emerging as a hodgepodge system of traffic laws that vary across county lines.
The Niagara County Legislature is to hold a public hearing and a likely vote Sept. 1 on a local law against texting while driving. Unlike the law passed in Albany, the county law would allow police to pull over a texting driver whether or not the officer sees another violation.