A change in behavior is what’s needed to counter the potential death sentence caused by the inexperience and inattention of young motorists who text while driving, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a Tuesday visit to Buffalo.
“We changed behavior when it came to alcohol and driving. We did it with the seat-belt law,” Cuomo said, appearing in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to talk about enforcement of driver safety measures.
Last week, Cuomo signed a law that carries a 60-day suspension for a first offense of texting or using a hand-held cellphone while driving by drivers who have permits, probationary licenses or junior licenses.
He followed up by announcing a summerlong crackdown on distracted drivers, carried out primarily by state police in unmarked sport utility vehicles.
“The state police will have a visibly increased presence on the road,” Field Commander Patricia M. Groeber said at Tuesday’s event. In addition to their highly recognizable patrol cars, troopers are utilizing unmarked sport utility vehicles built on a higher-than-normal platform, or chassis, giving them a better view of what’s going on inside other vehicles.
“This allows our officers to see into vehicles without being detected,” Groeber said.
Cuomo was introduced by Kelly Cline, of West Seneca, who has advocated for a law against texting and driving since her 20-year-old son, A.J. Larson, died in a 2007 accident that was attributed to his texting while driving.
Cline recalled standing with the governor in 2011, when he signed a law making texting while driving a primary offense – a reason all its own for police to pull over a driver.
“It was a major step forward in this ongoing fight to stop distracted driving,” she said.
Earlier this year, the governor signed a bill increasing the penalty for distracted driving from three points to five points on a driver’s license.
Holding a cellphone aloft, Cuomo noted its many uses.
“This device can be very, very dangerous if used at the wrong time,” he said. “We don’t think of it that way.”
Education is the way to change behavior, the governor said.
“Parents have a role here,” he said. “Parents shouldn’t be doing it.”
The governor spoke of his three daughters, two of whom are young drivers.
“I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to teach them, to help them, to put them in an environment that is safe,” he said.
“Let them learn this lesson the easy way. The hard way is too painful and takes too much of a toll,” Cuomo said.