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By Kelly Cline

A text message … that’s all it took to end my son A.J. Larson’s life 5½ years ago. A.J. was texting instead of paying attention to driving. He ran a stop sign and drove into the path of a garbage truck. He passed away a short time later at the hospital. A.J. was 20 years old.

Since then, I have been committed to calling for tougher actions against distracted driving. The statistics on this behavior are alarming and all too common, especially among our youngest drivers: 43 percent of teenagers admit to texting while driving; in New York State alone, one in five crashes is the result of such behavior.

The danger of this habit is clear, and as a community we must stand together to put an end to texting while driving. I stood with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2011 when he signed his first piece of legislation to target the practice into law.

That bill made texting while driving a primary offense, enabling law enforcement officers to pull drivers over for texting alone. That year the governor also increased the penalty to three points from two on a driver’s license and raised the fine to $150.

This year we saw more progress on the issue thanks to Cuomo. In June, the governor directed the Department of Motor Vehicles to further increase the penalty on a driver’s license to five points. He also signed into law a bill that gets to the heart of the problem for our youngest drivers. Now, drivers with probationary and junior licenses who text and drive will receive the same punishment previously reserved for speeding and reckless driving.

But we cannot be satisfied with merely strengthening penalties. The laws must also be constantly enforced so that all drivers learn – one way or another – to put their cell phones down. With the summer months bringing many young people home from school and families traveling to see relatives, the governor’s recent announcement of up to $1 million in funding to boost State Police enforcement efforts will help reinforce that message.

I applaud the governor and our state officials for doing so much to protect the “A.J.s” of our state. I hope that no other family should have to experience the loss that my family and I have. At the end of the day, however, we all must do our part to end this terrible habit. Start by eliminating the temptation to text – turn off your cell phone before you get into the driver’s seat, or put your cell phone in the glove compartment or trunk, or simply ask your passenger to be your “designated texter.” Teach your young drivers to do the same. Lead by example – texting stops when you get behind the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has referred to texting while driving as a “dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways.” Let’s end this epidemic.

Kelly Cline of West Seneca lost her son in a texting-while-driving accident.