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‘Texting Zones’ at Thruway rest stops and service areas are focus of safety campaign

It’s the pit stop – reimagined.

Rest stops and service areas along the Thruway are being renamed “Texting Zones” to encourage drivers to pull over safely before they start tapping away on their smartphones.

Blue traffic signs with the message “It can wait” are being installed along the Thruway and state highways will direct drivers to rest stops and service areas newly designated as these Texting Zones, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday.

There will be 91 Texting Zones statewide, including four along Interstate 90 in Erie County and one in Genesee County at the Pembroke service area. The Erie County locations will be at the Clarence and Angola service areas and the rest areas 2 miles east of Eden and 7 miles west of Hamburg.

Four zones are designated along the Southern Tier Expressway, including three in Cattaraugus County – Allegany River and two in Randolph – and one in Chautauqua County at Chautauqua Lake.

It’s the latest step in a continuing campaign to remind drivers of the dangers and penalties of texting while driving, State Police officials said.

“They can easily pull off in these Texting Zones and do it in a safe manner,” said Lt. Kevin M. Barnas, assistant zone commander for Erie and Wyoming counties. “They’re protecting themselves, obviously, but also the other motorists.”

Texting while driving impairs a driver’s visual, manual and cognitive abilities, he said.

“What happens with texting is that all three of those distractions come into play, and that’s why texting is so dangerous,” he said.

Cuomo also announced that an enforcement crackdown resulted in a 365 percent increase in tickets issued by troopers for distracted driving this summer over last summer. Using primarily unmarked vehicles, troopers statewide issued 21,580 tickets from the July 4 weekend to Labor Day weekend; 5,208 tickets were written over the same period last summer.

Distracted driving is broken down into cellphone use or texting. In 2012, 4,284 tickets were issued for cellphone use and 924 for texting. In 2013, 16,027 tickets were issued for cellphone use and 5,553 for texting.

At Troop A, which covers the eight counties of Western New York except the Thruway, State Police this summer issued 2,349 tickets for distracted driving, including 1,831 for cellphone use and 518 for texting.

Distracted driving is punishable by 5 points on a driver’s license and up to $150 fine. At 11 points, a driver’s license is revoked. At 8 points, a driver’s license is reviewed with the possibility of revocation.