Will Texting Zones Be the Fix for Distracted Driving?

Just the Facts:
  • The State of New York is testing the idea of "texting zones" where drivers can pull off the road to send or respond to text messages.
  • For the pilot program, 91 texting zones will be established along state thruways and highways.
  • The texting zones are part of a broader range of attempts by New York and other states to curb the increase in distraction-related vehicle crashes.

ALBANY, New York — In an innovative effort to combat distracted driving, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a trial program that will establish 91 "texting zones" where drivers can pull off the road to send or respond to text messages.

Utilizing existing park-and-ride lots, rest stops and other parking areas along thruways and highways, the texting zones will provide a safe alternative for motorists who feel the need to use their mobile devices while driving.

Since no new parking facilities will be created for the pilot program, the major cost of the test will be publicity, including 298 signs located along major routes across the state. If the concept proves effective, more locations may be added in the future. It is unclear whether other states are ready to adopt such a program for fighting distracted driving.

The texting zones come in the wake of a broader program, begun on the July 4th weekend, to battle distracted driving in New York. In addition to legislation that increased penalties for infractions and mandated longer drivers' license suspension periods, this has included stepped-up patrols and unmarked SUVs that give officers a better angle to see into vehicles.

"New York State is continuing to use every tool at its disposal to combat texting-while-driving," said Governor Cuomo. "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."

According to the NHTSA Web site, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted driving in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available. In all, 10 percent of injury crashes that year were the result of distracted driving.

At any given time, says the NHTSA, about 660,000 drivers are using mobile devices while at the wheel, a type of statistic that has prompted increased attention on the part of many state governments.

A 2013 survey by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that all states say they are taking steps to address distracted driving, with 39 states and the District of Columbia identifying it as a high-priority issue. That's a 43 percent increase from a similar report in 2010.

The survey also found an increase in distracted-driving legislation, with 47 states and D.C. reporting that they now have laws on the books prohibiting various types of mobile communication by drivers. Among those states, 41 ban texting while driving, a 26 percent increase from the 2010 survey.

Although the NHTSA Web site notes that distractions to driving include such activities as eating, drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, adjusting a radio and using a cell phone, it singles out texting as a particularly dangerous practice behind the wheel. According to the NHTSA, "because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction."

Edmunds says: Texting zones are an idea worth trying, but it remains to be seen whether drivers will actually use them.

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