State driving bill targets texting, teen motorists

10:33 PM EDT, July 16, 2009
ALBANY - Seeking to reduce the number of deadly traffic accidents, the State Senate gave final approval Thursday to a bill that boosts the license requirements for teenage drivers and prohibits text messaging while driving statewide.

Texting while behind the wheel already is barred in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The state legislation, from the Department of Motor Vehicles, increases the practice driving teenagers must do with an adult before taking their road test and receiving a junior license. The current 20-hour requirement would be raised to 50, including 15 hours at night.

The bill also would eliminate the limited-use junior license and require that a learner's permit be held for at least six months before a junior license could be obtained.

If no adult is present with a junior driver, the number of allowable passengers who are under age 21 and who are not family members would be reduced from two to one.

The bill also bars motorists from using cell phones, BlackBerries and other personal digital assistants, pagers, electronic gaming devices, laptops, two-way messaging systems and other equipment for text messages while behind the wheel. iPods are excluded, along with using text messages in emergency situations. A violation is punishable by a fine of up to $150.

"Hopefully, this will put an end to the scourge of text messaging while driving," said Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), author of the ban on drivers using cell phones. "The result has been the death of many . . . Text messaging is a clear danger."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn), agreed, adding the accident rates of motorists age 16 through 18 "are too high, and are inextricably linked to inexperience and distraction. I hope these measures give parents peace of mind knowing that their junior drivers will be better educated and better equipped," he said.

The Senate adopted the measure 56-1 Thursday. It passed the Assembly, 146-0, on June 17.

Gov. David A. Paterson will sign the bill into law, said spokesman Peter Kauffmann.

Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said 5,000 teens are killed annually in traffic accidents. A further 2,500 people are killed by cars driven by teens. In New York, both categories totaled 236 deaths in 2007, the most recent available data.

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

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