Thursday, July 1, 2010

Police Crack Down on Chatty Drivers by Stephen Geffon - Leader-Observer

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On Tuesday, June 22, at the stroke of midnight, police officers from the 102nd and 106th precincts along with officers citywide began a 24-hour crackdown on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving as part the NYPD's focus on traffic infractions linked to death and injury.

Police officials said that officers issued 4,527 summonses across the five boroughs to drivers who were chatting while driving during the 24-hour time frame The 106th Precinct alone issued 27 summonses for this violation. The number of summonses issued by officers of the 102nd Precinct was not available at press time.

Similar efforts from earlier this year resulted in 6,882 summonses handed out on March 25, and 7,485 summonses on January 21, according to NYPD statistics.

Individuals using hand-held cell phones while driving in the city face a fine of $130 ($200 for taxi drivers). Drivers can be fined $150 for text-messaging, though a ticket can only be issued as a secondary offense when a driver gets pulled over for another violation.

Exempt from the crackdown were drivers using their phone to call 911 and those who use hand-free options – their cell phone’s speakerphone feature, wired or wireless Bluetooth headsets, or the Bluetooth connectivity now built into GPS devices.

According to the NYPD, during 2009, police issued on average 617 summonses a day to drivers using hand-held cell phones, a total of 195,579 for the year. On previous crackdowns, NYPD-issued tickets for phoning while driving surpassed the daily average. On October 22, 2009, 7,529 summonses were issued for this infraction, and on August 21, 2009, 7,432 tickets were issued.

In addition to being illegal, “driving while talking on a cell phone is dangerous and endangers both drivers and pedestrians,” the NYPD said in a statement. A police spokesperson added, “it has just been demonstrated that motorists distracted by holding a cell phone while driving and speaking on a hand-held cell phone while driving has led to accidents, including fatalities.”

A University of Utah study found that drivers who talk on their cell phones, or even use a hand-free device, are as impaired as drunken drivers.

Frank Dardani, president of the 106th Precinct Community Council, said the cell phone enforcement shouldn’t be just for one day, “it should be everyday.” Dardani added that in addition to talking on a cell phone, other distractions such as putting on makeup, eating lunch while driving, and drinking hot coffee also pose the danger of an accident.

“Distracted driving in itself should be addressed (by police) on a daily basis,” he added.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer said, "crashes due to driver inattention or distraction are all too common and result in far too many tragedies. Drivers must be focused on the road and not on their cell phone conversations. It is unfortunate that this has had to become a police enforcement priority due to people’s lack of compliance with the law.”

Taxi drivers in the city face even more stringent regulations issued by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). Last January, TLC announced new regulations prohibiting the use of all forms of distractive electronic devices for taxicabs, livery, black car, luxury limousine, commuter van, and para-transit vehicles.

“The time has come to put an end to the abuse of distracted driving by taxicab and for-hire vehicle drivers,” said TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus. “First and foremost it is a safety issue, but it is also a customer service issue when a driver’s concentration is split between his cell phone conversation, his driving, and his passenger. There is no reason to wait for a tragedy to occur before drivers get the message that such distractions are dangerous and entirely unacceptable.

“The new regulations create a true 'three strikes and you’re out' reality for TLC-licensed drivers by providing a framework by which their TLC licenses would be revoked for three violations within a 15-month period,” added Daus.