Troopers targeting texting drivers
Tall, unmarked SUVs help police see motorists’ hands
MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. | Even for a state trooper, it’s not easy to spot drivers who are texting. Their smartphones are down on their laps, not at their ears. And they’re probably not moving their lips.
That’s why New York has given state police 32 tall, unmarked SUVs to better peer down at drivers’ hands, part of one of the nation’s most aggressive attacks on texting while driving that also includes steeper penalties and dozens of highway “Texting Zones,” where motorists can pull over to use their devices.
“Look at that,” Trooper Clayton Howell says, pulling alongside a black BMW while patrolling the highways north of New York City. “This guy’s looking down. I can see his thumb on the phone. I think we got him.”
After a quick wail of the siren and a flash of the tucked-away flashers, an accountant from the suburbs is pulled over and given a ticket.
New York is among 41 states that ban text messaging for all drivers and one of only 12 to prohibit using handheld cellphones. The state this year stiffened penalties for motorists caught using hand-held devices to talk or text, increasing penalty points on the driving record from three to five, along with tickets that carry fines of up to $200.
With the tough new penalties came tougher enforcement. In a two-month crackdown this summer, troopers handed out 5,553 tickets for texting while driving, compared to 924 in the same period last year.
In New York’s recent push, 91 existing rest areas and turnoffs on the state Thruway and other highways have been rebranded “Texting Zones,” some advertised with blue signs declaring “It can wait. Text stop 5 miles.”
“To our knowledge, New York is the first,” Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said of the texting turnoffs. “It’s an intriguing approach and one that we think will pay dividends and be duplicated in other states.”
New York State Trooper Clayton Howell checks a screen that displays driving records inside his patrol vehicle in Hawthorne, N.Y. Troopers are using a fleet of tall, unmarked SUVs as part of a crackdown on texting while driving.