Written by Stephen Levine and Jaclyn Gallucci Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00
A crushed car sat on the lawn of Jericho High School for a week last November, windshield smashed and the driver’s side door completely crushed in. The driver had been texting while driving. The car was towed to the school by police as a warning to students.
Between in-your-face local initiatives like this one, graphic television commercials, and national ad campaign the message seems to be everywhere: Texting while driving kills.
Earlier this month, our reporters observed 300 cars on Coleridge Road in Jericho at various times of day, and found 29 drivers blatantly sending text messages. On Cold Spring Road in Syosset, 31 out of 300 drivers were also observed texting. Considering at least 300 drivers pass each of these locations every hour—that’s more than 200 drivers texting on the road between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day.
Matt, 18, of Syosset, never considered himself a “texter and driver,” until he nearly rear-ended a car at a red light near a busy intersection.
“I had gotten a text message on the parkway and ignored it—because I was driving,” says Matt. “But when I got off [the exit] and was waiting at a really long red light, I grabbed my phone and checked it.”
Matt’s car was completely stopped, as was the car in front of him. A left-hand arrow turned green and cars to the left of him started moving.
“I saw the cars next to me going and without thinking I went,” he says. “It was like a reflex or something—automatic.”
Matt barely missed hitting the car in front of him.
“I know other kids do it all the time because you don’t think anything can happen to you,” he says. “You think you have control, but you don’t. I could have hit that car. I could have pushed it into traffic and caused someone to die and it would have been my fault.”
Now, Matt says, he shuts his volume off when he’s driving to avoid the urge to check his messages.
“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.”
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics Cohen’s Children Medical Center in New Hyde Park, calls the combination of new, inexperienced drivers and cell phones a “perfect storm.”
“Unfortunately, kids are texting like crazy because its second nature to teenagers these days,” said Adesman. “They fail to appreciate the risks.”
Using a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted of 15,000 high school students, the Cohen Center team analyzed the rate of texting while driving among teens.
Their conclusions? Nearly half of all teenagers text and drive and more than 3,000 teens die every year from doing so— 300 more teen deaths per year due to texting and driving than from driving under the influence.
In June, the DMV increased the number of points earned against an individual’s driving record upon conviction for texting-while-driving and cell-phone related infractions from three points to five points.
In July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Sen. Carl Marcellino’s legislation that creates new penalties for texting-while-driving for young and new drivers.
“The image of a teenager spending hours talking on the phone is disappearing and it’s being replaced by the image of a teenager hunched over texting,” said Marcellino. “And when the day arrives that they get that all-important driver’s license, they do not stop. The statistics are alarming and deadly—and avoidable.”
This landmark law imposes the same penalties on drivers with probationary and junior licenses for texting-while-driving and using a hand-held cell phone as for speeding and reckless driving: 60-day suspensions for first convictions and revocations of 60 days (for junior licenses) or 6 months (for probationary licenses) for subsequent convictions within 6 months of the time a license is restored after suspension.
“Traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death and injury for teens, and surveys show that texting is even more prevalent among young and new drivers,” John A. Corlett, Legislative Committee Chairman for AAA New York State. “This risky, selfish behavior poses a danger to everyone on our roads.”
But while every effort helps, so far the Cohen center has found virtually no difference in texting rates between states that have laws prohibiting it and those that don’t.
“You can legislate up the wazoo, but people still have to comply,” said Sinclair. “Unfortunately, people still don’t get it.”