BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - Text messaging or using a cell phone takes your eyes off the road for nearly five seconds, according to distraction.gov. Doing that while driving fifty-five miles per hour, you'd cover the length of a football field, blind. According to the U.S. site for distracted driving, ten percent of injury crashes in 2011 were due to this negligent behavior.
Distracted driving has become a growing national concern. New York State government and law officers are teaming up to create change. Trooper Victor Morales, the New York State Troop A Public Information Officer said, "We decided we needed to make things more drastic to show people we're serious about trying to stop texting and driving and all the injuries that occur."
In June, New York changed its point system. What use to be a three-point penalty on your license, is now five points. "Once you accumulate too many points, up to eleven points, then you could have your license suspended," says Trooper Morales.
A month later the fine penalties changed. They now range from $50 to $400, and that's before any court costs or insurance increase. Craig Willoughby, Owner of Willoughby Insurance, said most insurance companies wouldn't charge for your first minor violation.
"If you get a second texting ticket or second cell phone violation, you get a two point mark on your insurance," said Willoughby. These two points cause a twenty percent increase. Willoughby says companies are jumping on board to pose tougher penalties for drivers.
"Insurance companies are very well aware of the cost to them, when people get into accidents while their texting. It's a huge cost to the insurance company," says Willoughby. In order to deter the use of cell phones behind the wheel, companies will use these increases as leverage.
New York may have a high point and fine system, but it's for everyone's safety. Trooper Morales said, "It's dangerous and that's the thing we want to get across." He believes creating change will be reached through education.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a "naturalistic driving" study, which revealed eighty percent of crashes, involved the driver looking away moments prior to the crash. Casually glancing around while driving can be a natural reaction, and dangerous enough.
Combine that with texting and it's a deadly combination. Drivers aren't the only ones at risk. Other motorists or even civilians are in danger according to Trooper Morales, who gives cell phone addicts some good advice.
"You could turn the phone off. Make sure it's not even on vibrate, turn it all the way down to no sound," says Trooper Morales. He encourages placing the phone someplace you can't reach or utilize rest stops for checking your messages. He says be safe and think smart.