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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"STOP t-e-x-t-i-n-g while driving"

ALBANY, Feb. 27 -- Of all the many statistics being used to highlight the dangers of distracted driving – in other words, driving while talking or texting on a cellphone, or even now, unbelievably, browsing the Web on a smartphone – maybe this one drives the point home most of all: police officers in New York State have issued 118,757 tickets since July 2011 for using an electronic handheld device while driving.

That’s according to the Cuomo administration, which recently released the latest data on the same day that the Senate Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the issue in Albany. It’s more than enough to confirm the concern raised by many transportation safety experts that distracted driving has become an epidemic across the nation.

“These numbers speak for themselves,” said State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico, who testified at the Senate hearing.

And the numbers remain striking despite New York State having one of the strongest anti-distracted-driving laws in America. Last year the Legislature overwhelmingly approved and Governor Cuomo signed into law legislation strengthening New York’s laws by elevating text messaging while driving from a secondary to a primary violation, making it allowable for police officers to stop drivers texting while driving without the requirement of another, “predicate” offense being committed. The penalties for using a cellphone while driving were also increased from two to three points on a driver's license.

At our recent Senate hearing, we heard testimony from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Vice Chairman Christopher Hart who stressed that research shows the “increasing use” of handheld devices by motorists. Ticketing has skyrocketed, many argue, but there’s no corresponding drop in distracted drivers. The purpose of the recent Senate hearing was to explore if enforcement of New York’s current anti-distracted-driving laws can be enhanced, how to improve educational efforts, and if current driver education curriculums can do a better job of reaching young drivers.

Why the alarm? Federal data shows 16,000 deaths nationwide due to texting while driving. Other studies have shown that drivers are 23 percent more likely to be involved in an accident while text messaging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 15 people are killed and over 1,200 people injured every day in distracted driving crashes. How about this one: a driver who’s texting takes his or her eyes off the road for at least five seconds. Traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s enough time to drive the length of a football field without paying attention to the road ahead – and plenty of time to cross into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

But no black-and-white statistic can match personal testimony like the testimony we heard at our recent hearing from a young woman named Jacy Good. In 2008, on the day of her college graduation, she and her parents were hit by an 18-year-old driver who ran a red light while talking on a cell phone. Her parents were killed. Jacy was seriously injured. She’s lost the use of one arm.

“I was in a coma for my parents’ funeral. I didn’t get to go,” Jacy said in her powerful testimony before the Senate. As Jacy’s recovered, she’s become a national spokesperson in the effort to prevent distracted driving. Her story is heartbreaking. But it’s helping to save other lives.

As a result of last year’s law, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) now includes additional training for new drivers as part of the enhanced effort to deter distracted driving. The DMV, in partnership with the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, provides educational resources for parents and teens to help them understand the danger, which you can find online at:

Talking and texting behind the wheel is a tragedy waiting to happen. It’s one of the most dangerous pitfalls of this age of technology.

Right now we can only hope that the tougher laws, stricter enforcement and better education will help restore some common sense and safety to New York’s roadways – and save lives.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara


Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869