ALBANY - On Sunday, New York will become the 14th state to enforce a ban on texting while driving, but unlike most of the other states you won’t be able to be pulled over for the violation.
New York’s ban is deemed a secondary enforcement law, meaning police would have to pull a driver over for another offense to be hit with a texting fine.
Safety advocates said it’s a weak law, but some legislators said they would consider changing the law to a primary violation -- meaning a driver could be pulled over for it alone -- if the new measure doesn’t prove enough of a deterrent.
In August, Gov. David Paterson signed the texting-while-driving ban and also made it illegal to use other portable devices while at the wheel. The maximum fine is $150.
The law comes after a series of deadly car accidents involving teenagers. The law also requires new drivers to take 30 additional supervised driving hours and reduces from two to one the number of passengers under 21 allowed in a vehicle with a new driver.
A report in July by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that a driver text messaging is 23 times more likely to get in a crash than a non-distracted driver.
A national poll this week by Marist College found that 21 percent of young adults said they often or sometimes text while driving, compared to only nine percent of all Americans who said they do.
Barbara Harsha, executive director for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said the goal of the laws is “to send a message to all drivers, especially to young drivers, that texting and driving is a terrible thing to do.”
But she said that some states have reported problems enforcing the law and some unintended consequences, such as drivers texting in their laps to avoid getting spotted by police.
In total, 18 states plan to have texting-while-driving bans on the books by January. But only New York and Washington state have the bans listed as secondary enforcement, according to the association.
Judith Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington D.C.-based group, said a secondary ban lacks teeth and makes it more difficult for police to enforce.
“Secondary enforcement is really sending the wrong message to the public,” she said. “It’s basically saying this law is not that important.”
In comparison, 30 states, including New York, have made seat-belt laws primary violations, while 19 states list them as secondary.
State lawmakers said they would consider changing the texting-while-driving ban to a primary enforcement law depending on its success. Some legislators suggested if drivers are texting, they might swerve or commit another offense that could lead police to stop them.
“We have to see how the law is going to work and if there’s a need, we can always change it,” said Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman David Gantt, D-Rochester.
After high-profile deaths of teens in connection with texting and driving, the Legislature passed the bill earlier this year. The law will supersede bans passed by several counties.
In June 2007, five teen-age girls from Perinton, Monroe County, died in a car crash linked to texting. In December 2007, 20-year-old A.J. Larson of West Seneca, Erie County, was sending a text message and died in a crash.
Last spring, 22-year-old Brandie Conklin of Eden, Erie County, had been text messaging when she crashed into a truck and died.