By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Gannett Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY -- The state Legislature on Tuesday passed a bill to toughen the state's texting-while-driving ban by making it is easier for police to issue tickets to offenders.
The bill's adoption came just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo submitted his own legislation to make texting while driving a primary offense.
Currently, state law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning police can only issue a ticket if a driver is pulled over for another offense.
The law, adopted in 2009, has been knocked as weak by police and traffic-safety officials.
Gannett's Albany Bureau reported in April that few tickets were issued for texting while driving compared to the number issued for talking on a cell phone without a handheld device, a primary offense and a law since 2001.
Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, said he's comfortable with either the governor's bill or the one that passed in the Legislature. Robach is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.
"I think the important thing is we move toward a direction of letting people know it's serious, that taking your eyes off the road for that length time on a regular basis at some point can lead to tragedy," Robach said.
Both proposals would require distracted-driving curriculum for people seeking a license. The fine would remain at up to $150.
There was no immediate comment from Cuomo's office on whether he would sign the Legislature's bill or seek to have his own adopted.
Distracted driving using portable devices has become a growing safety concern with numerous fatal crashes involving youth occurring across the state.
Lawmakers said hopefully the tougher law will curb fatalities.
New York is one of only four states that has a texting-while-driving ban but doesn't make it a primary offense. Twenty-seven states have it as a primary infraction.
"Text messaging while driving is unsafe and illegal," said Assembly Transportation Committee chairman David Gantt, D-Rochester. "This legislation builds on our commitment to increase safety on our roads by allowing law enforcement officers to enforce the ban."
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, D-Nassau County, said the new law would save lives.
"Changing the law from a secondary offense to a primary offense gives law enforcement the tools they need to keep our roads safe," he said.