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Stopping distracted driving in New York

It’s widely accepted that distracted driving is a serious danger on New York and U.S. streets and highways, but how to curb the issue is up for debate.

In New York, texting while driving and talking on cellphones while driving is illegal. To encourage drivers to follow the law, governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently unveiled “Texting Zones” that give drivers along the New York State Thruway and state highways a place to pull off the road to use their cellphones and mobile devices.

Meanwhile, auto manufacturers and technology companies are trying to combat distracted driving with new technology.New models of vehicles have an increasing number of technologies that allow drivers to talk on their phones hands-free. Mobile applications are now available to disable certain uses of cellphones when a vehicle is operating. 

But some researchers say that fighting technology with technology won’t work. Recently, researchers told members of the Governors Highway Safety Association that real progress on distracted driving will not come from technology. Instead, drivers need to be convinced to put safety ahead of access to information, they said.

One professor said that social influences push bad behavior even when good technology is in place. He would like to find ways to get people to make to decide not to text before they pick up the phone. One solution: to deemphasize the instant gratification that people get from texting. What if drivers thought of driving as they do with flying, when people accept that they cannot call or text while in the air.

Changing drivers’ attitudes is difficult, however. In the 1980s, the use of seat belts became the norm only after drivers were educated, regulations enacted and enforcement stepped up. To stop distracted drivers, the same combination will likely be required, the researchers said.

In a news release, Gov. Cuomo said the state is using every available method to reduce texting while driving. In addition to the Texting Zones, State police have new methods of detecting distracted drivers, there are tougher penalties and public outreach.

Source: Huffington Post, “To Fix Distracted Driving, Experts Say Target The People, Not The Tech,” Bianca Bosker, Aug. 27, 2013; Governor’s Press Office, Governor Cuomo Unveils “Texting Zones” Along NYS Thruway and Highways for Drivers to Pull Over and Use Their Cell Phones, Sept. 23, 2013

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