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From the Desk of Assemblyman Charles Lavine: December 18, 2009

NYS Law Bans Use of PEDS While Driving

Whether you stay connected by mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), laptop, pager or two-way messenger, New Yorkers are constantly plugged in. While these devices have their benefits, increased usage is a significant distraction and danger on the road, which is why I helped implement a statewide ban on driving while using portable electronic devices (PEDs) (Ch. 403 of 2009).

In the past few years, counties throughout the state, including Nassau and Suffolk, have passed similar local bans. As of Nov. 1, these local laws were pre-empted and all New Yorkers are now subject to the new statewide stipulations.

Under the new law, drivers are prohibited from composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages or other electronic data while driving. The measure also bans viewing, taking or transmitting images and playing games. Motorists found in violation of the ban could face a maximum fine of $150. Fines are allowed to be imposed only for a secondary offense when the driver is pulled over for a violation of another law.

 The law also requires the commissioner of motor vehicles to work with the superintendent of the state police to study the effects of the use of PEDs while driving. Previous studies have shown that drivers who use PEDs behind the wheel dramatically increase their chances of being in or causing a traffic accident.

In addition to cutting down driving distractions, the new law also better protects young, inexperienced drivers by strengthening New York’s graduated driver licensing laws and bringing the state’s program closer to the model recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to a 2008 NHTSA publication, a significant percentage of junior drivers are involved in traffic crashes and are twice as likely as adult drivers to be in a fatal crash.

The new law eliminates the limited class junior operator (DJ) and junior motorcycle (MJ) driver license so that young, inexperienced drivers will be supervised for the full six-month permit period and maintains junior driver licenses (Class DJ or MJ), which allow limited driving privileges for young people learning to drive. The law also increases the number of practice driving hours that must be certified by a parent or guardian from 20 hours to 50 hours before a permit-holding junior driver can obtain a license. The number of non-family passengers under the age of 21 allowed to ride with a junior driver not accompanied by a supervising adult has also been reduced from two to one.

The new law will go a long way toward furthering New York’s ongoing commitment to solving the tragic problem of fatal and personal injury crashes. For more information, call my district office at 676-0050.

Disaster Can Strike Anytime – Be Prepared

“Unexpected emergencies can destroy communities and devastate families. Whether we are struck by a natural disaster, such as high winds, flooding or an ice storm or we encounter a man-made threat, the more information we have, the better we can respond. That’s why I encourage all residents to sign up for NY-Alert, a program that is part of New York State’s ongoing commitment to providing New Yorkers with information that keeps them aware of threats and emergency situations and instructs them how to respond accordingly.

“Signing up for NY-Alert is free and easy. By doing so, you will receive warnings and emergency information, including road closures, inclement weather events and terrorist alerts issued by New York State and local governments. Information can be sent to you via cell phone, home phone, e-mail and other technologies. You can list up to three phone numbers, two e-mail addresses and three cell phone numbers to receive text messages. Receiving alerts through these high-tech devices allows you to be aware of perilous events in a faster and more convenient way.

“In addition, once you sign up for NY-Alert, you will also be able to customize locations, types of emergencies and the threat level (from minor to extreme) about which you would like to receive information. Most alerts are issued by your county or local municipality. Every emergency is different and alerts are tailored to meet the notification needs of each incident.

“We all have a responsibility to keep our families and communities protected when alarming situations occur. Emergency response personnel are trained to respond quickly and effectively, but every community’s level of preparedness starts with individuals being aware and informed. NY-Alert helps expedite critical and lifesaving information in times of emergency, which can mean the difference between life and death.”

To sign up for NY-Alert, visit www.nyalert.gov or call 888-697-6972. For additional information call Lavine’s district office at 676-0050.