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Are drivers getting the message?

LATHAM -- Putting the brakes on distracted driving.  Two years ago, lawmakers called for strengthening enforcement for drivers who text behind the wheel.  But every day, you see someone looking down at their phone instead of at the road.  We wondered if the initiative is keeping you safer.

Police say they've got more work to do, even after texting was elevated to a primary offense.

Are people getting the message to put the phone down, or are they still picking it up to read a text message?

"It's going to take a while to change people's behavior," said Sgt. Daniel Larkin, New York State Police.

The data supports the thought, and it shows more people end up with a phone in one hand and a ticket in the other.

As for the crackdowns, "they've been very effective in terms of numbers of tickets that we've written and raising people's awareness about the law and the fact that we're serious about its enforcement," Larkin said.

There are still plenty of violators.  Since the announcement of legislation to increase enforcement of violations, troopers locally issued 2,800 tickets for using hand-held phones, 300 for portable electronic devices.  That includes texting.

It was even more for each in 2012.  Troop G wrote 3,700 cell phone tickets and about 1,000 tickets for distractions like texting.

"People are so caught up in what they're doing, they don't even realize there's a police car around them," Larkin said.

Larkin said enforcement is relatively easy.  "One of the most obvious things -- the vehicle will be swerving in the lane or actually crossing over in to another lane," Larkin said.

Officers aren't always in marked cars, either.  You may not see spotters out on the road, when you pick your head up from the phone.  It'll cost you more than missing a message.

Larkin says it's $185 total and two points on your license for talking on a phone, $235 and three points for a text.  Those dollar amounts include surcharges.

"The ultimate penalty is that you get in to a crash, and you take someone's life or your own," Larkin said.

When it comes to fatalities, Sgt. Larkin says that the rates came down when the law required car drivers and passengers to wear seat belts.  It took a while to change people's habits but the rates supported the decision to make it a law, he says.  Larkin said the numbers have been slowly climbing again since about 2006 when more and more people began using cell phones.

A study released this week by the Cohen Children's Medical Center on Long Island shows more teens die from texting while driving than drinking and driving.
 
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