Dangers of distracted driving underlined by local cops

July 31, 2013 Helen Klein
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It was no accident that some Brooklynites got a taste of the dangers of distracted driving at the most recent meeting of the 68th Precinct Community Council.

In a demonstration held just weeks before the state’s new, tougher distracted driving law took effect, the attendees at the meeting, which was held at the 65th Street station house, watched as a volunteer tried to steer a car via computer simulation while simultaneously texting.

It was only seconds, it seemed, before the simulator “crashed” – making a vivid point to all those in attendance.

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“There are things that we do in a vehicle that make us a danger to everyone,” stressed James Vavas, the president of Vavas Insurance and Financial Services, who brought the simulator to the meeting, and who noted that “delays in reaction time” caused by distracted driving, are the “equivalent of driving with an .08 percent blood alcohol level.

“None of us gets behind the wheel if we have had something to drink,” Vavas went on, “but I guarantee that every one of us would get behind the wheel with the intention of making one phone call or sending one text.”

Now, if someone is caught committing an offense within the more stringent distracted driving laws – including texting while driving or using an electronic handheld device while driving – he or she is liable to pay a fine ranging from $50 to $150, for a first offense. For a second offense within 18 months, the maximum fine increases to $200, and for a third or subsequent offense within 18 months, the maximum fine increases to $400.

Also, new penalties have been created for young and new drivers, who now face 60-day license suspensions for texting while driving or using a hand-held cell phone while driving. Subsequent convictions within six months lead to 60-day license revocations for those holding junior licenses and six-month revocations for those with probationary licenses. The penalties are the same as for speeding and reckless driving, and became the law in New York State as of July 1, the same day the legislation was signed.

In addition, as of June 1, the number of points a driver convicted for texting or cell-phone-related driving infractions went up from three to five.

“Distracted driving has become a frightening epidemic on our roadways and fines are an important tool to punish and prevent this reckless behavior,” noted Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Combined with stronger penalties on your license and increased enforcement, these increased fines will send a tough message to all drivers that distracted driving is a serious problem with serious consequences.”

Assemblymember Felix Ortiz concurred. “Although forbidden by state law, we have all seen those who still drive while texting, using their phones or other hand devices,” he noted. “It is clearly dangerous and has been the cause of too many avoidable vehicle accidents. Stricter penalties will deter individuals from utilizing electronic devices while driving and save the lives of innocent victims.”

For Vavas, educating young people about the consequences of distracted driving is something of a mission. He told council attendees that he takes his simulator to high schools in the area, and lets the students try to “drive” while “texting” and try to avoid getting into an accident.

“I’ve been through hundreds of simulations and even the ones who think they text best end up crashing,” Vavas noted. “It scares them straight a little bit,” one reason, presumably why, after Vavas has completed his demonstration, many of the teens who participate will sign a safe driving, anti-texting pledge.


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