February 20, 2013

New Initiative to Target Texting, Tweeting Drivers

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With a Distracted Driving Initiative, City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 is cracking down on drivers who use cellphones and other electronic devices while driving. For two weeks, Ithaca police will heighten their enforcement of rules against distracted driving, Myrick announced Monday through his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

“Did you know a texting driver is 23 times more likely to crash?” Myrick tweeted Monday.

The initiative will target three specific violations, according to Jamie Williamson, public information officer for the Ithaca Police Department. These include “driving while talking on a cell phone, texting while driving and manipulating other electronic devices — such as iPods and mp3 players — while driving,” Williamson said.

“Studies have shown that [these activities] are extremely distracting,” he added.

Williamson said that enforcement will be deployed through both normal patrol activity and high observation.

“Some officers do have binoculars in their car that they bring for these details. They will have the position of advantage: being up high — two, three stories up in the air in the parking garages to find people driving while using a device,” he said.

The penalty and fines for these violations, which are determined by the Ithaca City Court, may include both civil and monetary penalties, according to Williamson.

“All violations are worth three points on a license, and it’s up to the court to determine the fine. As far as fines go, the court would generally fine around $100 with surcharges they may impose,” Williamson said.

Williamson said that data on the number of fines given out will be available at the end of the week, but data from previous reports indicated that, on average, there are two distracted driving violations per hour, according to Williamson.

The initiative will be funded by the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, according to Williamson.

Williamson said IPD will employ different enforcement approaches at different times of the year.

“For example, later in the year, they’ll have a ‘speeding in the school zone’ initiative,” he said.

The City of Ithaca receives grants several times a year from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee to enforce different roadway campaigns, including an initiative against jaywalking and improving TCAT. Williamson said that the committee decides the theme of these New York Selective Traffic Enforcement Program grant funded initiatives.

Julia Buffinton ’14 expressed reservations about the nature of the punishment for distracted driving.

“Since using a cell phone while driving is illegal in New York, it seems reasonable to punish people for doing so. However, I think just a fine would suffice to help enforce this,” Buffinton said.

Other students, however, emphaized the dangers of driving on Cornell’s busy pedestrian campus and said the city’s Distracted Driving Initiative would help keep them safe.

“With the way kids often walk in front of cars without looking, drivers definitely need to be focused and not distracted by anything,” Christopher Harvey ’15 said. “[The initiative] will make me more conscious about avoiding using my phone while driving.”

Katherine Eldredge ’13 echoed Harvey’s sentiments.

“With how narrow and poorly designed a lot of the roads are, people really need to be paying attention, especially when there are cars parked on the street and people walking all over the place,” Eldredge said.

Original Author: Kevin Milian