Building on the success this summer of the checkpoints aimed at motorists who may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, local police would do well to take on another high-risk factor on the roads — distracted drivers.
Backed up by additional funding and officers from the Suffolk force, several South Fork police departments joined efforts during the high season, netting dozens of suspected drunken drivers. As with a past initiative to check compliance with the state seatbelt law, the surprise checkpoints helped spread the word that even a few drinks could land a driver in a heap of trouble. Now the departments should take on cellphone users and others who daily put the rest of us at risk.
Nearly everyone has a story about distracted drivers. It is a rare day that a commute to work or trip to school with the kids isn’t marred by some jerk’s texting, reading e-mail, or even Web surfing, putting others, and themselves, at risk. An increasing body of research shows that talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel can reduce the time it takes for drivers to react to hazards to a degree comparable to that caused by a few alcoholic drinks.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 3,092 people were killed in the United States in accidents involving a distracted driver in 2010 — about 10 percent of all highway deaths — an increased number presumably related to the use of handheld electronic devices. By comparison, the transportation administration reported, there were roughly 10,200 deaths linked to the consumption of alcohol in 2010.
New York State has banned texting while driving along with talking on handheld phones, but it is up to local jurisdictions to get the message out. Visible and aggressive enforcement is in order; lives depend on it.
Suffolk has not entirely ignored the problem, particularly of texting and driving. Legislator William Spencer of Huntington has been pushing a partnership with AT&T called “It Can Wait,” designed to teach young people about the risks. According to a press release this week issued by Mr. Spencer’s office, the county police is “committed” to increasing enforcement — something there needs to be much more of, if the widespread disregard for the law on East Hampton’s roads is any indication.