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Police to crack down on texting while driving this holiday weekend

New York State has been aggressively cracking down on those who use a handheld device while driving. This Thanksgiving will be no exception. 

During the Thanksgiving holiday, “Operation Hang Up” will crackdown on those who use electronic devices while driving. This is part of an ongoing effort New York State has been enforcing since the law was passed.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, more texting tickets were issued in seven months than the entire last year. Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd says the law makes it easier to pull people over to give tickets for texting.

“You stopped them because there was a tail light out and you saw that they were texting," said Todd. "They changed the law so that now it becomes a first violation and you can write them for just texting or talking on the cell phone.”

Todd says it’s funny how easy it is to catch people texting while driving, but that’s the only funny part. He says it’s common to drift off the road while texting. It also affects reaction time, making it difficult to stop the car in time if someone or something runs into the road. Typical reaction time is one to two seconds, but texting while driving doubles it.

Dianna Dibble with AAA says that accidents due to cell phone use aren’t accidents at all. They call them crashes because they are one hundred percent avoidable.

“When a driver’s eyes are off the road for more than two seconds for any reason, whether it’s texting or using a cell phone, the odds of a crash occurring are nearly doubled,” said Dibble. 

In Syracuse, texting decreased due to an increase in education and enforcement over the past year, according to a study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

From April 2010 to April 2011, Syracuse ran a program called Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other.  This program was designed to let drivers know that police were stepping up enforcement on local cell phone laws and to urge drivers to obey the laws on texting and cell phone use.

Syracuse Police Department Sergeant Gary Bulinski says he thinks this program did work. He believes when drivers see strong enforcement and get tickets for texting, they will comply with the law.

“And when you get strong enforcement such as that, and people might get stopped and end up getting a ticket the first time around, it tends to change their behavior and then we get voluntary compliance, and that’s what we’re really hoping to accomplish,” said Bulinski. 

Like Sheriff Todd, Bulinski has no problem catching texting offenders. Officers either see the phone in plain sight, or they notice drivers swerving or driving extremely slowly.

“It’s not difficult at all," he said. "I think you can sit at any intersection, sit on the side of the road, and its common place to watch people drive by with a cell phone in their hand and either have it up to their ear or be texting on it. If they’re looking at the cell phone or text, they’re not looking where they should be driving, and that results in crashes occurring," he said.

GEICO Regional Vice President Joe Thomas understands that texting is an enormous part of people’s lives. He has seen many cases where crashes were due to texting while driving. Thomas says when people text and drive, the chances of crashing significantly increase.

“Obviously when you’re texting, you take your eyes off the road you’re concentrating really on what message you’re sending; you’re not concentrating on a lot of things around you," said Thomas.

Thomas says that texting campaigns have gone out to the younger demographic and the message seems to be coming across for them. Surprisingly, he says there is another age group that is a big offender of texting while driving: the middle aged. Thomas emphasizes that the message to end texting while driving needs a broader range, so people of all ages listen and obey.

Many emphasize that if a driver absolutely needs to send a text or make a call, the safe and legal thing to do is to pull off the road. As they say, all it takes is one text to end a life.