In The Zone

In an effort to curb distracted driving, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is creating “texting zones” along New York state highways and thruways.

The governor announced Monday the creation of texting zones, which will give motorists a pull-off area to park and use their mobile devices. According to a release, existing park-and-ride facilities, rest stops and parking areas along New York state’s highways and thruways will dual-function as texting zones. Signage will be placed along the highway to inform drivers where the zones are located. A total of 298 signs will be located along major highways across the state, notifying motorists to 91 texting zone locations.

“New York state is continuing to use every tool at its disposal to combat texting while driving,” Cuomo said. “In addition to tougher penalties, new detection methods for state police and ongoing public outreach efforts, we are now launching special texting zones to allow motorists to pull over and use their phones.”

In Chautauqua County, just one location has been designated as a texting zone. The Chautauqua Lake/Ellery rest stop on Interstate 86 will be identified as a safe location to stop and text.

Additional locations along I-86 include stops along the Allegany River and two Randolph locations in Cattaraugus County. There will also be five stops along Interstate 90 in Erie County, including the Clarence Service Area; Angola Service Area accessible from the east- and west-bound lanes; a rest area 2 miles east of Eden/Angola; and a rest area 7 miles west of Hamburg.

According to state Sen. Catharine Young, R-C-I-Olean, the state will be picking up the cost to add signs notifying motorists of texting zones.

“Texting while driving is highly dangerous, and the huge increase in the number of tickets issued this summer reveals that too many drivers are still not putting down the phone while on the road,” Young said. “Reminders that stops are available where you can safely text is a simple step that may help to save lives. These signs, which will be paid for by the state, will help to bring down the number of drivers who are texting behind the wheel and keep our roads safer for everyone.”

According to Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace, distracted driving is something officers are trained to handle.

“(Texting) is something that goes on, unlawfully, routinely,” Gerace said. “We try to enforce it to the best of our ability with existing manpower.”

When it comes to motor vehicle crashes in Chautauqua County, driver inattention and distraction ranks No. 1 as a contributing factor. In a report by Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research that tracked driving data from 2009-11, nearly 500 of the 2,300 crashes on average cited distracted driving as a factor.

Over the Fourth of July holiday, New York State Police issued nearly 500 tickets for distracted driving as a part of Cuomo’s “summer crackdown.” From July 4 through Sept. 2 – 21,580 distracted driving tickets were issued, including 16,027 for cellphone usage and 5,553 for texting. In comparison, for the same dates for 2012, a total of 5,208 distracted driving tickets were issued: 4,284 for cellphone usage and 924 for texting.

State Police have been using Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement vehicles as part of the operation, in order to more easily identify motorists who are texting while driving. The vehicles are sport utility vehicles that have platforms higher than an average vehicle, which allow officers a better ability to see into other vehicles and detect individuals in the process of sending text messages. The vehicles are unmarked and come in a variety of colors to ensure they blend in with traffic on the road. They are also equipped with hidden high intensity emergency lights.

“With this new effort, we are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, because your text can wait until the next texting zone,” Cuomo said.