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Drivers Must Get The Message

Motorists caught while using cellphones in New Hyde Park

At any given moment, one out of every 10 drivers on the streets of New Hyde Park is texting, talking or otherwise engaged with a handheld cellphone. This widespread disregard for the law as well as the safety of our children and neighbors is the startling finding of a study conducted by the New Hyde Park Illustrated News. Earlier this month, our reporters observed 300 cars on New Hyde Park Road at various times of day, and found 42 of the drivers blatantly brandishing their phones.

 

“It creates such a hazard,” Lakeville Estates Civic Association President Marianna Wohlgemuth said. “I see it all the time. I amazed at how selfish [drivers] are because nothing can be that important to endanger your life. It’s as bad as driving while drunk to me.”

 

And New Hyde Park is not alone. Identical studies conducted by our reporters in other Nassau County communities showed up to 13 percent of drivers with phone in hand (Great Neck), but no fewer than 9.7 percent in Jericho and Port Washington.

 

“Texting and driving has become one of the newest dangers,” said Christopher Mistron of Nassau County Traffic and Safety Department. “A simple ‘How are you?” can steer drivers off the road and increases the possibility of a crash greatly.”

 

Nationally, deaths from cellphone-related auto crashes have surpassed those involving alcohol—3,000 per year compared to 2,700—and lead to 330,000 injuries per year, according to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. 

 

“Texting while driving is unique in that it uses both of your hands and your eyes, all of which are needed for driving,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York. “Some people think they can get away with doing it briefly but that’s not the case.”

 

A recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety underscored that point, showing that even a hands-free phone impairs a driver’s ability to see danger and react. In the AAA study, cognitive distraction expert Dr. David Strayer and a team from the University of Utah measured brain waves and eye movements to assess shifts in drivers’ mental workloads when they attempted to multi-task. Cameras inside the cars tracked eye and head movement, while another mechanism recorded the motorists’ reaction time and an electroencephalographic skull cap charted brain activity.

 

“These findings reinforce previous research that hands-free is not risk-free,” said Peter Kissinger, who heads the foundation. “Increased mental workload and cognitive distractions can lead to a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness where motorists don’t see potential hazards right in front of them.”

 

That is, the driver not only misses much of what’s ahead, but also neglects to look in the side and rearview mirrors.

 

“Everything has to be instant today and it’s costing people their lives or risking serious injury,” Wohlgemuth stated. “Back in the day, we had to rely on phones before going out. Now, it’s just an onslaught of information people need at their fingertips.”

 

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has advocated stricter laws since 2011, when he signed legislation making distracted driving a primary traffic offense, which allows police to pull a driver over purely for handheld cellphone use behind the wheel. More recently, Cuomo deployed troopers in Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement (CITE) vehicles to patrol highways statewide and increased the penalty for texting from three to five points on a license.

 

“Drivers are being selfish, worrying about who’s texting them or who’s emailing them, when they should be concentrating on the road,” said Wohlgemuth. “Turn off your phone when you get in the car.”

 

Nonetheless, for many, the urge to respond to a buzzing phone is automatic, despite the life and death implications of staying  focused when controlling several thousand pounds of steel traveling upwards of 88 feet per second at 60 miles per hour.

 

“Nothing is so important to take away from driving,” said Sinclair. “People who think they can text and drive...it’s insanity.”

 

And, according to experts, the insanity is spreading. 

 

“It has crossed over to every age group,” said Mistron, “although it may be more prevalent in inexperienced drivers because they think they can get away with it.”

 

Cohen’s Children Medical Center in New Hyde Park analyzed a survey the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted of 15,000 geographically and demographically diverse high school students, which included questions about texting. The Cohen Center team examined the rate of texting while driving among teens, how this behavior correlates with other risky behaviors, and to what extent laws make a difference.

 

Their conclusions? Nearly half of all teenagers text and drive.

 

“Unfortunately kids are texting like crazy because its second nature to teenagers these days,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen. “They fail to appreciate the risks associated with texting while driving.”

 

According to Dr. Adesman, the rising wave in accidents by teenagers is a “perfect storm.” Teenagers are the newest and most inexperienced drivers, and adding a distraction like texting only increases the likelihood of a crash.

 

Unfortunately Dr. Adesman found that there is virtually no difference in texting rates between states that have laws prohibiting it and those that don’t, which seems to prove that the laws aren’t working.

 

“You can legislate up the wazoo, but people still have to comply,” said Sinclair. “Unfortunately, people still don’t get it.”

 

While legislation doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, many advocates, including Dr. Adesman, look to the cellphone manufacturers to help make the difference.

 

“There should be a technological solution to a technological problem,” he said, adding that there is an app that immobilizes the phone’s texting feature at speeds above 10 miles per hour.


News

The Sewanhaka Central High School District selected Brentwood-based Park East Construction as its bond construction management firm last week. The group will oversee the $86.6 million in improvements coming to the district. Park East will analyze school architect Wiedersum Associates’ plans before applying for New York State Education Department approval.

 

“They are going to make sure the [firms that win district contracts] do the work right,” District Superintendent Dr. Ralph Ferrie said. “They’re going to make sure [the engineer’s] drawings are right before they are sent up to New York State. [Park East] reports directly to the architect and the Board of Education to make sure what we say we’re going to do is done well.”

The Sept. 18 meeting of the Herricks Board of Education covered a range of issues, from the district’s overall performance to the sudden death of a student to fiscal and personnel issues—even to the loss of maple trees. 

 

National Ranking 

Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Bierwirth announced that the district’s high school had achieved an impressive level of distinction in a recent national survey that measured scholastic achievement; in fact, a great deal of Long Island made the cut, he said.


Sports

Seniors Daniella Ford and Margie Londono highlight a Sewanhaka Indians girls soccer team vying for its second straight winning season. 

 

Ford, who is in her fourth season as starting goalie for the Indians, netted a season-high 24 saves in a 3-1 loss to Valley Stream Central. 

 

“She’s a stud back there,” said Sewanhaka third-year coach Eric Premisler, whose team is 0-3 as of press time, after going 8-3-1 last season. “If we can stop a team from taking five shots because of good defense, Daniella is going to stop another 15 shots. And we’re going to have a chance to win every game.”

The Sewanhaka Indians continue to let their presence be felt in Nassau Conference II. 

 

The Indians played their second game as members of the conference on Saturday, Sept. 21, against the Long Beach Marines, topping the south shore squad 51-30. 

 

On the opening drive, the Indians relied on running back Brenton Mighty’s legs to get them into the red zone. On first and goal from the 15-yard line, quarterback Elijah Tracey hit

Michael Parasconda on a screen pass for the first score. 


Calendar

Exercise Class - September 24

Silver Sneaker Fitness - September 25

Live Music - September 26


Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

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