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U shld read this Ban on texting while driving should win Legislature approval

People who have fun keeping up with the latest electronic gadgets are often frustrated when they shell out considerable amounts of money on the latest must-have doodad, only to find out that very little time passes before the device is embarrassingly out of date.

People who have a duty to keep up with the latest electronic gadgets can become even more frustrated when the way that some of them are used presents a serious danger to people, and they find out that the process of amending a state's laws to compensate for the latest high-tech blip can leave us all fatally behind the curve.

One effort to catch the laws of the state of New York up to the technological status quo is a bill that would make it illegal to send or read cell-phone text messages while driving a car. It is a sensible law that we would already have but for the fact that the texting craze is still new, and most common among people who are too young to hold public office.

Proposed by Republican Sen. Jim Alesi and Democratic Assemblywoman Susan John, both from the Rochester area, the bill would make it a traffic violation, with a fine of up to $100, to text while driving. It is a reaction to the dreadful traffic accident back in June near Rochester, when texting was one of the factors blamed for the wreck that killed five young women.

Clearly, a lot of people don't pay attention to the laws we have. The 2001 New York law making it a crime to talk on a hand-held cell phone while driving hasn't stopped this dangerous practice. And, clearly, cell phones and their text functions are not the only distractions that might turn an otherwise safe driver into an accident waiting to happen.

But more and more scientific research shows that cell-phone use, even of the hands-free variety, is so distracting that it causes what some researchers refer to as a virtual blindness.

It is much more dangerous than, say, listening to the radio or even conversing with a passenger. The driver feels no moral or social obligation to hold up his end of the conversation with the radio, as he would with the person on the phone, and the passenger in the next seat stands to share the driver's awareness of road or weather hazards that suggest it's time to stop jabbering and pay attention to the road.

Banning a behavior doesn't put a stop to it. People need to make that decision for themselves. But basic traffic safety does demand a ban on texting while driving. It's the most effective way we have of getting out the message that a state full of innocent bystanders deserve roads that are as clear of unnecessary distractions as possible.

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