By Alex Christodoulides
If City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) has a say, New York City will join four states in banning text messaging behind the wheel.
He joined state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) on the steps of City Hall last Thursday to announce legislation banning text messaging — sending, writing or reading — while driving in the five boroughs, something that only Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington state currently ban and which Alaska will forbid starting Sept. 1.
The state Legislature is considering similar bills this year.
The legislation is in response to the city Taxi and Limousine Commission's new accessible dispatch system pilot program, which matches wheelchair users with accessible vehicles via a central dispatching system, which then contacts cab drivers by BlackBerry.
“While I have always been a great supporter of increasing accessibility for disabled commuters, I have some concerns with the details of this proposal,” Weprin wrote in an Aug. 8 letter to TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus.
“The use of BlackBerry devices to write and receive text messages while in transit on New York's extremely congested thoroughfares poses a risk not only to the driver, but to his/her passengers, pedestrians and other vehicles as well,” Weprin wrote.
The TLC said that the program will not compromise safety.
“The small number of drivers participating in this pilot program, which provides a valuable, never before available service to people who use wheelchairs, are trained not to communicate or respond while driving,”
TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus said in a statement. “We believe that there will be ample opportunities for them to do what they need to do without compromising anyone's safety. Nothing suggested so far appears to be incompatible with the program's procedures.”
If the legislation goes into effect, drivers caught violating the ban could be fined up to $250.
Ortiz is the sponsor of the state Assembly's version of the bill. A companion bill in the state Senate, sponsored by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-L.I.), passed in May.
“We all take a very cavalier approach to driver safety, and far too often ignore the basic rules for driving safely,” Ortiz said. “Banning text messaging while driving will help us to lower the levels of car accidents and prevent the recurrence of tragedies which often result in the loss of loved ones.”