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Gov. Cuomo cracks down on new drivers texting behind the wheel

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that creates new, stiffer penalties regarding texting while driving for teenaged and new drivers. The law now treats texting as seriously as speeding or reckless driving.

Teenagers just beginning to drive and older new drivers who are caught texting while driving will now see their licenses revoked for sixty days. If they repeat the offense within a half year, their driving licenses will be taken away for another six months.

Cuomo, who has twin daughters who will be driving soon, says inattention and inexperience at the wheel can be a death sentence.

“Those two, three, four, five seconds that you look down to answer the text, that period of inattention is all the time in the world," Cuomo said.

But the governor says more importantly, there needs to be a cultural shift in attitudes toward texting or talking on the phone while driving.  He says it wasn’t that long ago when people thought it was harmless to drink alcohol before getting behind the wheel, or to not wear a seat belt.    

“Now it’s unimaginable for people to get into a car and not wear a seatbelt,” the governor said.

Cuomo says there are now more fatalities and injuries caused by texting and driving than from alcohol consumption before driving.  

Ben Lieberman is very well aware of that fact. Lieberman lost his teenaged son in a car accident caused by texting while driving. He now is co-chair of Distracted Operators Risk Casualties, where he says he’s working to change attitudes about smart phones.

“There’s something new with this generation,” Lieberman said. “And that’s an addiction to smart phones.”

The law takes effect immediately.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.