By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A 365 percent increase in distracted-driving tickets this summer season has prompted the governor to mark Texting Zones along New York’s highways.
The increase in tickets is due, in part, to State Police patrols specifically dedicated to finding drivers who are violating the state’s electronic-mobile-device traffic law, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office.
“This campaign is sending a clear message to motorists: It can wait,” State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said in the release.
“There is no text that is important enough to jeopardize a life, and anyone caught texting while driving will face stiff penalties.”
WROTE 21,580 TICKETS
Ninety-one already existing Park-n-Ride facilities, rest areas and parking areas will also serve as Texting Zones, with 298 signs to be posted along highways informing drivers of the location of the zones, the Governor’s Office said.
The blue road signs read, “It can wait,” and give motorists the number of miles until the next texting stop, where they can safely use their cellphones or other electronic devices.
Texting Zones in the North Country are located at stops on Interstate 87 at Exit 40 (Beekmantown, Point au Roche); Exit 35 (Peru, Valcour), Exit 31 (Elizabethtown,Westport), Exit 32 (Lewis) and Exit 29 (the High Peaks northbound and southbound rest areas).
Between July 4 and Labor Day of this year, State Police wrote 21,580 distracted-driving tickets; last summer’s total was 5,208, according to the Governor’s Office.
This new initiative joins two others: the recently increased penalty for distracted driving from three to five points on a driver’s license and new legislation to increase license-suspension and revocation periods for distracted driving for young and new drivers.
The State Department of Motor Vehicles can suspend or revoke motorists’ licenses if they incur 11 points for traffic convictions in an 18-month period.
Earlier this year, State Police Troop B here in the North Country started sending troopers on electronic-device details in a Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement vehicle — they are now used around the state.
The vehicles come in varying colors to ensure they blend in with traffic, the release said, and they have higher platforms than their civilian SUV counterparts, so troopers can see down into vehicles they pass and detect motorists who are using electronic devices.
Most violators won’t realize they have been caught until the trooper turns on the vehicle’s hidden high-intensity emergency lights signaling the car to pull over.
“With this new effort, we are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, because your text can wait until the next Texting Zone,” Cuomo said.
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