It’s a simple seven-word message, one born from equal parts heartache and relentless energy – and it’s a testament to a young man who lost his life five years ago.
“Don’t Text While Driving. It’s the Law,” states the message appearing on New York State Thruway Authority digital signs across the state from Monday through Wednesday this week.
The first day of the digital messages, Monday, marked the fifth anniversary of the day that 20-year-old A.J. Larson lost his life in a texting-while-driving accident near his West Seneca home.
Since then, his mother, Kelly Cline, has worked tirelessly with local elected officials, especially State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, to spread the message about the dangers of texting while driving. Those efforts led to tougher laws against the practice in both Erie County and New York State, along with the digital message starting on Monday’s fifth anniversary.
“She’s absolutely one of my heroes,” Kennedy said of Cline. “Unquestionably, her stepping up is going to save lives across the state.”
Kennedy was asked late Monday what he will be thinking when he sees the Thruway message in the next couple of days.
“I’m going to be thinking about the tremendous act of courage that it took for Kelly Cline to step forward after the tragic loss of her son,” he replied.
Along with the new sign, State Police Troop T will ramp up its enforcement efforts of the state’s ban on texting while driving, Kennedy stated.
“It’s been five years since we lost A.J., and I miss my boy every day,” said Cline, who couldn’t be reached to comment, in a statement issued by Kennedy’s office. “While we’ve made great strides raising awareness of the dangers of texting while driving, people still need to be reminded.”
On July 14 last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came to Erie Community College South to sign a new state law making texting, or using any hand-held electronic device, a primary traffic offense.
That means that police now can pull over drivers solely for texting. Previously, officers had to stop a driver for another violation, such as speeding, before ticketing that person for texting.
Texting while driving carries a fine of up to $150 and can add three points to a driver’s license.
At the bill signing, Cuomo praised Cline’s actions in creating something positive out of her family’s tragedy.
“What you did, I believe, will save lives,” the governor said then, adding that he hopes she finds some peace from the new legislation.