By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY _ Gov. David Paterson is proposing legislation that would make it easier for police to pull over motorists who are texting while driving.
New York imposed a texting-while-driving ban in November that makes it a traffic infraction, along with using other portable devices while at the wheel.
But the ban is a secondary enforcement law, meaning police would have to pull a driver over for another offense to be given a texting fine. Paterson wants to raise it to a primary offense, allowing police to pull over a driver caught texting at the wheel.
"This bill will take the handcuffs off our law enforcement officers and make our highways safer by allowing officers to observe a violation and immediately issue a summons," Paterson said in a statement Wednesday.
Traffic-safety advocates had criticized New York's law, one of only two in the country -- along with Washington state -- that has secondary enforcement.
A secondary law "sends the wrong message that it's not an important law, not important enough to make it like every other highway safety law," said Judith Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington D.C.-based group.
Paterson's measure would require legislative approval. The state adopted the texting-while-driving ban last year after a series of deadly car accidents involving teenagers.
A part of the law took effect on Monday, which requires teenagers to have additional supervised driving hours before getting a license and reduces from two to one the number of passengers under 21 allowed in a vehicle with a new driver.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman David Gantt, D-Rochester, said he will review Paterson's proposal. He said police have expressed to him the difficulty in enforcing the law.
Gantt said the state should also consider additional efforts to inform the public about the texting ban.
"I think it's more education to get people to understand that it's dangerous to be texting while driving," he said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 16 percent of fatal accidents in 2008 were due to distracted driving, Paterson said in a news release.
A report last July by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that a driver text messaging is 23 times more likely to get in a crash than a non-distracted driver.
In June 2007, five teen-age girls from Perinton, Monroe County, died in a car crash linked to texting. In December 2007, 20-year-old A.J. Larson of West Seneca, Erie County, was sending a text message and died in a crash.
Last year, 22-year-old Brandie Conklin of Eden, Erie County, had been text messaging when she crashed into a truck and died.
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