.. We’ve probably spent more than enough time on Wendy Savage today. In contrast to all that good press, there’s another Ms. Savage who’s gotten nothing but bad reviews here at f/k/a the past couple of years (see here, and there): She’s Susan E. Savage, the Chair of the Schenectady County Legislature. But, it had to happen: Chairwoman Savage has proposed a local law that actually makes good sense. Indeed, we supported just such a law for the entire State about 5 weeks ago here at f/k/a.
To wit: If Susan Savage gets her way, “Texting while driving could soon be banned in Schenectady County” (CBS 6 News, October 23, 2008).
update (December 10, 2008): The County Legislature passed the law yesterday, by an 11 – 2 vote. Only Republicans Joseph Suhrada and Jim Buhrmaster opposed it. See “Law forbids texting while driving in Schenectady County: Violators could face fine of $150″ (Dec. 10, 2008). According to the Gazette: “Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said many state laws, like the helmet law and the cellphone law, began as local measures. ‘We are raising awareness of a particular issue, and until the state acts, we should,’ he said.”
This afternoon, Chairwoman Savage introduced a local law to ban what we call DWT — driving while texting. (Click here to read the full press release as a PDF file; also, “Schenectady County proposing texting ban while driving“, Albany Times Union, October 23, 2008 ) In her press release, Chairwoman Savage had some important things to say:
“This is an important public safety issue. Research has shown the dangers of driver distractions so it is important that we propose legislation that will prevent a deadly accident before it happens.
“I also hope this will raise awareness to this dangerous and deadly behavior. Before the New York State seatbelt law, most drivers knew it was a good idea to wear one, but only 17% of drivers were motivated to change their old habits. Now, 89% of drivers in New York State wear their seatbelts.”
Violators would incur a $150 fine. As the Times Union noted, “The issue took on prominence when five high school girls died in a fiery accident south of Rochester in 2007. Cell phone records showed someone was texting on the driver’s cell phone when the girls’ SUV passed a car and crashed into a tractor trailer.” And,
“By considering this legislation, Schenectady County says it would join Rochester’s Monroe County in proposing a ban. Westchester and Suffolk counties have already passed similar bans. Alaska, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Washington State have also passed state-wide bans.”
As we opined on September 18th, The Schenectady Gazette got it right on banning driving while texting in its editorial “Textbook case of a law that shouldn’t be necessary, but is” (September 15, 2008):
“And [the DWT law] should be enforced more rigorously than the oft-ignored handheld cellphone ban. Perhaps if police had done a better job with that one, motorists wouldn’t be so brazen about engaging in far-more-distracting text messaging.”
The f/k/a Gang hopes the ban on texting while driving passes — but would how to have a statewide ban soon. If we get really lucky, Susan Savage may realize that her arguments about driving distractions apply equally to DWP: driving while phoning. Unfortunately, the State has pre-empted local jurisdictions with ineffective, counterproductive and under-enforced laws that only ban hand-held cellphones, while permitting drivers to use the equally distracting hands-free version. It would be great, threfore, if Ms. Savage got other local leaders across the state to lobby the Legislature and Governor David Paterson to ban all forms of phoning while driving. If, as a busy politician and mother, she currently engages in that reckless behavior behind the wheel, publicly giving it up would make Susan Savage an excellent role model.
update (Oct. 24, 2008): A few of our neighbors at the Rotterdam [NY] internet forum are less than enthusiastic about the texting ban. My quick response:
- “nannyism” is government making you do something that is good for you, it is not banning activity that is dangerous to other people and their property;
- if this is a good law, it does not serve the public well to be fretting, as Republican legislator Joe Suhrada does in today’s Gazette, that Susan Savage is engaging in a distracting sideshow to avoid attention on the new “wallet-busting budget.” If our Legislators aren’t capable of reviewing a budget while spending a small amount of time on this issue (and maybe a few others), we need to elect more capable people. And, if politicians can’t time activity to make themselves look good, Joe Suhrada might have to go out of business.
- as noted above, the hand-held cellphone law has not deterred the practice of DWP because it has not been adequately enforced (with the law flaunted everywhere openly); effective enforcement and high-profile publicity are needed to make this work; the fact that enforcement will raise money is a plus, not a reason to oppose the law;
- those who argue “we can’t cure stupid” might just as well say “we can’t cure greed or anger” and oppose laws against fraud, robbery, murder, etc. The fact that so many of our younger citizens engage in this dangerous activity is a reason to act against it, not to give up and turn DWT into some kind of birthright.
- It may be difficult to spot some of the texters, as Sheriff Harry Buffardi mentioned to the Gazette, but much of it is visible and records of usage are available from the service providers if a dispute arises.