Letter: Westchester Gets Tough On Drivers Who Text

  • Comments (6)
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. ‒ The following letter was submitted by Westchester County District Attorney Janet DeFiore. 

To the Editor,

As District Attorney and chief law enforcement officer in Westchester County, I want to share with you what my office has been doing about the danger of distracted driving. This is of particular concern with our younger, less experienced drivers. Last year, more than 3,000 lives were lost in our country in accidents involving distracted driving, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Distracted driving is a public safety issue both nationally and here in Westchester County.

Research says that sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds and in that brief amount of time, a driver going 55 miles an hour can travel nearly the entire length of a football field. We also know that when drivers use a cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, the impact on their reaction time to changes in road conditions is equivalent to driving drunk. The latest focus, but by no means the only source of distraction, is texting while driving. Recent government research indicates that one in three teens admitted to having texted or emailed while driving during a single month.

Last fall, with the support of the Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association and Nationwide Insurance, my office began an educational outreach program aimed at teenage drivers. We began with a public demonstration of the effects of texting while driving, using a driving simulator provided by Nationwide. A member of my staff then visited 17 Westchester County high schools and spoke to students, giving these young drivers a chance to use the simulator. When they texted while “driving” on the simulator, they were able to see the often disastrous results on the screen in front of them. For those of you whose teenager participated in one of our presentations, I hope your son or daughter shared with you what they learned.

We are serious on the enforcement end of districted driving as well. A year ago, in July of 2011, New York law changed so that the use of hand-held devices by drivers became a primary offense, which means that an officer can stop a driver specifically for using a hand-held electronic device. Previously, a ticket was issued only if a driver was stopped for another offense. The change in New York law also broadened the definition of using a hand-held electronic device to include “holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving email, text messages or other electronic data.”

We have a shared responsibility to our community to drive safely ourselves and to model safe driving habits for our children. I urge you to give your children the clear, consistent message that no phone call, text, tweet or email is so important that it cannot wait until we can safely pull over and stop the car.

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Comments (6)

I'd love to see more people getting pulled over and being issued tickets for both texting and driving. You see it -- countless times every day -- at a red light -- driver not looking ahead, but looking down, and missing the light change. You see it at intersections, people holding phones up to their ears.

Great to get tough -- but when is it really being enforced? Why not "deputize" common citizens and put them in unused squad cars during the day -- pair them up -- and have these 'Barney Fifes' issue tickets.

every time I see someone driving and using the phone, it makes me sick. Its so dangerous, at least once a week I see Greenburgh police and EMS using their cell phones while driving, Who gives them the ticket?

When I get a phone call from someone calling from their car, I ask them to call back when they have stopped driving. That's my contribution to driving safety.

The concept is good, but yet we see, very clearly, through car windows, almost daily, drivers, often adults, not just teenagers, talking on hand-held phones, or using other handheld devices, as they drive around (or make illegal U-turns on the streets of) Larchmont/Mamaroneck, endangering all of us, not just themselves and, often, the children in the car/van/SUV with them. I have yet to see one of them stopped, much less ticketed, by one of our police officers. Unless that happens what Janet says she is doing will accomplish little.

I am very pleased and relieved to see that Westchester County is cracking down on texting while driving. However, the article did not report what the consequences will be if someone is pulled over, and how those consequences might differ betweent minors and adults.