Cell Phone Crackdown- 130,000 Tickets

By JOEL STASHENKOThe Associated Press ALBANY — Police officers have issued more than 130,000 tickets for violations of the state’s prohibition against drivers talking on hand-held cellular telephones, and state officials say motorists are starting to get the message about the danger they pose. The ban, which police started enforcing in December 2001, is gaining recognition among drivers in a way similar to the slow but steady acceptance of the state’s 1984 mandatory seat belt law, said state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz. “They know that not only are police becoming vigilant, they (drivers) are in a position to get violations,” said Ortiz, a Brooklyn Democrat who championed the cell phone ban in the state Legislature. Violators face $100 fines. More than two years after its passage by lawmakers, New York state’s ban remains the only one in the nation. While Ortiz and other proponents of the law in New York had predicted that the state would blaze a trail for other states, that has not happened while highway safety experts debate how best to combat distracted driving. Earlier this month, in fact, Governors Highway Safety Association Vice Chair Jim Champagne urged states not to enact cell phone bans without cracking down on other distractions behind the wheel at the same time. “We are particularly concerned about legislation that would ban only hand-held cell phones because it would give drivers a false sense of security,” Champagne said. “Even with hands-free (phoning) equipment, a driver still can be distracted.” The governors’ safety group, of which New York is a member, and the National Transportation Safety Board do support bans on cell phone use by novice or young drivers. State Motor Vehicles Commissioner Raymond Martinez said driver inattention is a “big problem” in New York, be it because of a cell phone conversation or other distractions. People who talk on hand-held cell phones while driving know it’s dangerous, Martinez said, even while they’re violating the law. “It is not followed uniformly, but it is very similar to the seat belt law when it first started,” Martinez said. “It takes awhile to ramp up. … It’ll take a couple of years. We have continuing education and the underlying thing is that people know it is the right thing.” More than 90 percent of New York drivers now use seat belts, according to the most recent survey by state police. The telecommunications industry has been sponsoring television spots warning motorists that driving safely is their first job and that cell phones can distract them from that duty. State officials had no estimate of the noncompliance rate among drivers for the cell phone law. An American Automobile Association national survey recently found that 30 percent of motorists said they sometimes drove with a cell phone to their ear. Under the law that created New York’s cell phone ban, the Department of Motor Vehicles has to report next year to the governor and the Legislature about the law’s enforcement and effectiveness at preventing accidents, and propose changes. Ortiz said he is pushing a bill to toughen penalties for chronic violators of the ban by imposing a point on the licenses of motorists who have been ticketed three times under the law. The legislator also foresees a day, perhaps as soon as 2006, when the use of hand-held and “hands-free” cell phones by drivers will both be banned in favor of voice-activated cell phones. Ortiz said automakers already have the technology to install those phones, which allow motorists to dial with a voice command and to talk without having to take their eyes from the road. Ortiz was invited to Detroit by automakers to see the voice-activated equipment. “It is a very encouraging system,” he said. Local tickets in crackdown Cayuga — 119 Broome — 473 Chemung — 168 Cortland — 156 Genesee- 159Livingston – 121Ontario- 302 Schuyler — 21 Seneca — 157 Tioga — 45 TOMPKINS — 472 Wayne- 213New York State — 130,883 Source: New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.


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