on July 4, 2013 - 4:17 PM
A July Fourth holiday crackdown on distracted driving was cheered Thursday by the mother of a West Seneca man who was killed in a texting-related crash in 2007.
“Isn’t it awesome?” asked Kelly Cline of West Seneca. “I think it’s fabulous. I love when they do that on holiday weekends.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the crackdown this week, saying that up to $1 million was to be spent between last Saturday and this Sunday on increased patrols, primarily by officers in unmarked sport utility vehicles, targeting texting while driving.
The local impact seems slight so far.
State Police stations in Western New York, surveyed by The Buffalo News on Thursday, reported little about results from the stepped-up enforcement.
Sgt. Richard Kota of the Jamestown station said using an unmarked vehicle for such details was common.
“We have them nonstop,” Kota said. “We use them exclusively to look for distracted and aggressive drivers.”
The undercover cars are not assigned to every station.
“Usually, they’ll be assigned to a zone,” Kota said.
Western New York, which is covered by Troop A of the State Police, is divided into four zones, each containing several stations.
The unmarked SUVs being used in the enforcement effort are called Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement, or CITE, vehicles. They are built on a higher-than-normal chassis, giving the trooper on patrol a better-than-average view of what’s going on inside other vehicles.
The CITE vehicles are painted a variety of colors, but they all have hidden high-intensity emergency lights.
Two years ago, Cuomo signed the law making texting while driving a primary offense, allowing police to pull over a driver just for texting. Before that, a driver had to be committing some other violation, such as speeding, to be cited for texting.
Cuomo signed bills this year increasing the penalty for distracted driving from three points to five points on a driver’s license and lengthening the license suspension and revocation periods for young and newly licensed drivers caught texting.
For Cline, who pushed for laws against texting at the wheel following the death of her 20-year-old son, A.J. Larson, all this is great news.
She credits Cuomo.
“He’s just improved and built on the original law, and I think it’s wonderful,” she said.
“Gov. Cuomo rightly recognizes that texting while driving is an epidemic on our roads,” said John Corlett, chairman of the legislative committee for AAA. He said this crackdown “will send a message to all drivers to put their phones down and keep their eyes on the road.”
Cline called for more education on the dangers of texting behind the wheel.
She suggested that drivers caught texting be sent to a victim-impact panel, similar to those attended by drunken drivers, where drivers hear from survivors about how DWI crashes affected them.
“I think something like that would really send it home, put a face on what could happen,” Cline said.
State figures attribute one of every five auto accidents to some form of distracted driving.
Last year, there were 30,000 tickets issued for texting while driving, a 234 percent increase over the 2011 total.
State officials express concern that texting while driving continues to increase, to a level rivaling drunken driving.
There were nearly 44,000 arrests statewide for drunken or impaired driving last year.
During the 2012 Independence Day holiday period, state troopers gave out 84 tickets statewide for distracted driving. They issued 1,132 speeding tickets during the same period.
Using a cellphone while driving is much more common than texting, though state statistics show that the number of arrests for that violation is not keeping up with last year’s pace.
In 2012, state and local patrol officers issued 216,706 tickets for illegal cellphone use. During the first five months of this year, the statewide total was 69,970.
In Erie County, figures for January through May showed 1,989 tickets for driving while using a cellphone. The total for all of 2012 was 7,055. It’s the largest figure in the state outside the New York City metropolitan area.
In Niagara County, 516 tickets were issued for cellphone use during the first five months of this year, compared with 1,561 for all of 2012.
Most local State Police stations checked by The News said that enforcement of the cellphone law is left to regular patrols.