Operation Hang Up: New York State Police cracking down on distracted driving

It’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said today that New York State Police will be out on the roads for the next week cracking down on texting, smartphone use, and other forms of distracted driving.

"It can wait!" Governor Cuomo unveiled "Text Stop" signage in 2013 to encourage drivers to wait before using their phones. Photo provided by NYS Governor's Press Office.

“It can wait!” Governor Cuomo unveiled “Text Stop” signage in 2013 to encourage drivers to wait before using their phones. Photo provided by NYS Governor’s Press Office.

“Efforts by state and local law enforcement have resulted in an 840 percent increase in tickets for texting while driving in New York State since 2011,” the governor said in a statement today. The number of cell phone tickets overall has decreased, though, with fewer people talking on the phone.

Operation Hang Up is a high-visibility distracted driving crackdown coordinated by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee. The New York State Police, county Sheriff’s departments, and local police agencies will be out in force from April 8 to April 13.

“There is zero tolerance for distracted driving and State Police will be out in force to crack down on this dangerous behavior,” the Governor said. “By keeping your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, we can help prevent needless tragedies and make this a safer New York.”

“Manipulating any handheld device is illegal,” Ithaca Police Department public information officer Jamie Williamson tells us. Exceptions to the law include using a hands-free phone, or a handheld phone or other device (such as a GPS) that’s affixed to the vehicle, or use of a phone to “communicate an emergency to a police or fire department, a hospital or physician’s office, or an ambulance corps,” according to the state’s distracted driving web page.

Terri Egan, the acting chair of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, says, “No text message is worth a life. Not only are motorists who text or use their cell phones while driving, putting themselves at risk, they are endangering everyone on the roads.”

Viewing or taking images on a handheld electronic device; talking on a handheld phone; playing games; or sending, composing, browsing, or reading electronic information while holding an electronic device, whether on a web page, e-mail message, or text message, is illegal while driving. Commercial drivers are further prohibited from using a handheld device while their vehicle is temporarily stopped because of traffic, a stop sign or traffic light, or other momentary delays.

“Each year, there are needless tragedies and victims left behind someone couldn’t put down their handheld device,” says New York State Police commissioner Joseph A. D’Amico. “Distracted driving is just as dangerous as speeding or driving impaired and continues to be a leading contributing factor of motor vehicle crashes.”

“Answering a phone call by pushing one button or initiating a phone call by using Siri on Apple phones or similar [voice control] programs on other phones is permitted,” says Cornell University Police Department deputy chief David M. Honan, who tells us CUPD strictly enforces state laws “related to distracted driving, in addition to the laws regarding bicycles, pedestrians and skaters.”

“The main intent of the cell phones laws in New York is to ensure that you are paying attention to your driving with your hands are on the wheel and eyes on the road,” Deputy Chief Honan says. He adds that the state’s general definition of “using” a device includes holding a mobile telephone to or near the user’s ear; dialing or answering a mobile telephone by pressing more than a single button; or reaching for a mobile telephone in a manner that requires you to maneuver so that you’re no longer in a seated driving position, restrained by a proper seat belt.

Throughout New York, many rest stops have been relabeled as “texting zones,” with the familiar blue highway signs touting not just how close the next gas station or fast food outlet is, but how soon the next chance to pull off the road for a quick text break will be. In all, there are 91 “text stops” along the New York State Thruway and other state and interstate highways.

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