Legislation proposed to close ‘loophole’ in N.Y. distracted driving laws

New York lawmakers may close a loophole that lets drivers use mobile devices while stopped, as this practice can cause risky levels of mental distraction.

In recent years, distracted driving has gained public attention as a leading threat to the safety of motorists in New York. According to the most recent data available from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2014, over 24 percent of in-state crashes with human-related factors involved some form of driver distraction. Overall, more than 48,000 of these distraction-related car crashes occurred, resulting in over 24,000 injuries and 100 deaths.

Cellphones are one of the most notorious causes of driver distraction. Consequently, New York has taken a strict stance against cellphone use while driving by banning the use of all handheld devices unless an emergency is occurring. However, critics contend that there is a significant loophole in the state's current laws: Drivers are still permitted to use mobile electronic devices while their vehicles are not in motion.

Lingering distraction

To many drivers, the risks of using a cell phone while waiting at a stop sign or idling at a red light may seem trivial. However, research shows that cognitive distraction is one of the biggest dangers of using a cellphone while driving. This form of distraction can linger, which means that motorists who use their phones while briefly stopped may still end up driving distracted.

According to The Hartford Courant, one study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that a driver can suffer from dangerous levels of cognitive distraction for up to 27 seconds after using a cellphone. At a modest speed of 25 miles per hour, a driver can cover the length of three football periods during this time span. As a result, drivers who believe they are being conscientious by using their phones while stopped may still be endangering others.

Performance impairments

Lingering cognitive distraction may cause several handicaps that make drivers likelier to cause serious auto accidents, according to research from the National Safety Council. These include:

· Slowing down a driver's response time. In one University of Utah study, drivers who were legally intoxicated showed better response times than mentally distracted motorists.

· Causing drivers to take in less of their immediate environment. Multiple studies suggest that drivers who are mentally distracted ignore up to half of the visual cues that they see.

· Reducing activity in parts of the brain that oversee driving. In another study, listening and thinking critically caused drivers to exhibit less activity in regions of the brain used during navigation, spatial processing and visual information processing.

Alarmingly, many drivers may be oblivious to these risks as well as the lingering nature of cognitive distraction.

Proposed reforms

To address these various risks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed banning drivers from using mobile electronic devices even while their vehicles are stopped. Formal legislative text has not yet been released, but according to WXXI News, the measure would ban texting in stop-and-go traffic, at stoplights and at stop signs. Drivers would still be able to use mobile communications devices while pulled over, however.

Sadly, even if this loophole is eventually closed, distracted driving crashes will likely continue to take a serious toll in New York. Anyone who has suffered harm in one of these negligence-related accidents should consider speaking to an attorney about potential legal remedies.