State should upgrade texting-and-driving laws


Twenty and 30 years ago, we worried about drunken drivers plowing their vehicles into other cars or trucks and killing innocent men, women and children. Then along came the cellphone, and suddenly we had a new worry: distracted driving.

Back in the 1990s, we only needed to worry about people talking on their cellphones while driving. Enter phones that could also text, in the 2000s, and a clear and present danger to drivers suddenly appeared on the roads. Texting, which requires one’s total attention, is distracted driving on steroids — or, should we say, overdrive?

There is little doubt that our highways are getting more dangerous. According to the nonprofit National Safety Council, 4.6 million drivers were injured seriously enough to require medical attention last year. Of those, 40,000 were killed, which represents a 6 percent rise in roadway fatalities over 2015 and a 14 percent increase over 2014. That was the largest two-year jump in driving deaths in 53 years, the NSC says.

In a recent NSC survey, 47 percent of respondents — 47 percent! — said they felt comfortable texting and driving. Ugh!

The New York State Legislature is looking at any and all possible ways to curb texting and driving, which is, in fact, illegal. State Sens. Terrence Murphy and Michael Ranzenhofer, both Republicans, and Sen. Tony Avella, a Democrat, have co-sponsored legislation to require field testing of cellphones in crashes to see whether drivers were tapping away at them when they should have had both hands on the wheel.

If passed and signed into law, the measure would make New York the first state in the nation to require such field testing, done with a “textalyzer,” similar in concept to the breathalyzer used in drunken-driving cases.

There are understandable concerns about the legislation. What if, for example, someone else in the car was texting while the driver was obeying the law? Or what if the driver was texting hands-free, with voice-recognition software, which is allowed under current law?

Such questions should rightly be raised. Still, we encourage lawmakers to pursue legislation to halt texting and driving, knowing the grave dangers that it presents. And if you’re one of those who do it, we say this: Cut it out! You’re not only endangering yourself, but also everyone around you on the road.