SENECA FALLS — When it comes to distracted driving, police and other officials believe many people are guilty of a “double standard.”
In its 2018 traffic safety culture index, the AAA Foundation reported that while nearly 96% of people believe it is dangerous to read a text or email while driving, 40% of them admitted doing so in the previous 30 days.
With that statistic in mind, the Seneca Falls Police Department is joining other agencies in the nationwide “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” campaign. It starts Thursday and runs through Monday.
“We are not out issuing tickets because we enjoy it. Proactive enforcement of these types of violations has proven to be effective,” SFPD Chief Stu Peenstra said. “Texting, messaging, and other forms of distracted driving are increasing habits that put everyone at risk, even those of us in law enforcement. We want drivers to focus on the most important task — hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”
Funding for the campaign comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Peenstra said that will allow his department to have extra vehicles on the road, marked and unmarked, to target distracted drivers.
According to the NHTSA, more than 26,000 people in the United States died from 2012-19 in crashes involving a distracted driver. While fatalities from all motor vehicle crashes decreased slightly from 2018 to the following year, fatalities involving distracted drivers increased by 10%.
The 3,142 deaths nationwide in 2019 blamed on distracted driving accounted for almost 9% of all fatal crashes. Drivers 16-24 years old are responsible for most distracted driving.
Fines in New York state for distracted driving can range from $50 to $450, with as many as five points possibly added to a license.
Peenstra said while people who see a marked police vehicle put their phone down to avoid being caught, officers have other ways of ticketing the driver.
“It can be an unmarked vehicle parked somewhere, and they can radio ahead to another officer down the road,” he said. “We can also put people on a park bench. If it’s an obvious infraction, we will write a ticket.”