FYI — ppl cant txt n drive in wstchesta nemore nxt yr.
Aiming to curb distracted driving and prevent accidents like the one that killed five teenagers upstate last year, the Westchester County Board of Legislature voted unanimously Monday to ban composing, reading or sending text messages while driving.
The law, effective March 9, 2009, carries a $150 fine for each violation.
New York already bans the use of handheld cellphones while driving. The Westchester law, drafted by the office of County Executive Andrew J. Spano, applies to the habit of drivers tapping out messages on their phones, BlackBerries and other communication devices while operating their motor vehicles.
“It may be cool in their minds, but it just distracts, I think even more than a cellphone,” said Legislator Vito J. Pinto, chairman of the board’s Public Safety and Security Committee. “There are an awful lot of young people who feel that it’s O.K. to put the machine on their steering wheel and drive.”
Since May 2007, Alaska, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington have banned texting while driving. More than a dozen other states, including New York, are considering similar legislation, and Councilman David I. Weprin plans to introduce a citywide ban at a New York City Council meeting next month.
Proposed bans have gained public support after a string of accidents. Among those was the June 2007 collision that killed five teenage girls near Rochester, in which police determined that text messages had been sent and received on the 17-year-old driver’s cellphone moments before her S.U.V. slammed into a truck.
A Nationwide Mutual Insurance survey of 1,200 drivers last year reported that one in five drivers admitted to texting while behind the wheel. In a July survey of 1,000 drivers by FindLaw.com, a legal information Web site, nearly half of drivers 18 to 24, and 27 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds, admitted to sending text messages, instant messages or e-mail messages while driving.
Mark Melrose, director of the emergency department at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J., and a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said texting had become as risky, if not worse, than talking on a cellphone while driving.
“There isn’t an emergency physician around who hasn’t heard of or personally taken care of a patient injured while doing something else while attempting to text or talk on a cellphone,” he said. “It is even worse with texting while driving, because imagine doing that while wearing a pair of eyeglasses that only allowed you to see 12 inches in front of you.”
It is too early to tell whether New Jersey’s law has had an effect, he added. Anecdotes abound, but reliable data about the risks are difficult to obtain because few drivers will admit to texting after being in an accident, he said. “Everyone knows it’s dangerous, but it’s kind of a guilty pleasure,” he said.
The Westchester law provides exceptions for drivers using text messages in case of emergency or once they have pulled off the road, out of the flow of traffic. The ban does not apply to the use of Global Positioning System tracking devices.
Andrew Neuman, a spokesman for Mr. Spano, said the law is intended to be a preventive and punitive measure and to protect drivers and pedestrians. “The time has come, unfortunately,” he said. “There have been a number of fatalities elsewhere, and the county executive does not want to see that happen here.”
Mr. Pinto said that just by raising awareness about the problem, the ban would make a positive difference.
“We’ll work with local public safety officials and police departments, and we’ll do everything possible to make sure this message gets out,” he said.
Source : The New York Times