This week, New York's governor announced a plan to put "texting zones" on State Highways. It got me thinking about whether cities need to do the same.
First, a bit about the news: In an effort to reduce the number of distracted drivers on the roads of New York, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo revealed a plan to put "texting zones" on the New York State Thruway and State Highways, where drivers can pull over and respond to text messages. This is, in part, a response to the fact that New York has seen a 365 percent increase in tickets issued to distracted drivers between the summers of 2012 and 2013 (In 2013, 16,027 people were pulled over for talking on cellphones, and 5,553 for texting -- as compared to 4,284 and 924, respectively, in 2012).
As Cuomo said in a statement, "With this new effort, we are sending a clear message to drivers that there is no excuse to take your hands off the wheel and eyes off the road because your text can wait until the next Texting Zone."
New York will place 91 "Texting Zones" along the New York State Thruway and State Highways.
Distracted driving is a huge issue for cities. Indeed, just last week we discussed a social media campaign launched by the Mayor of Houston, Texas, to unite Texan cities against texting while driving. With pedestrian death on the rise in cities across the US, there's an absolute need to curb driver distractions.
However, there's something about Cuomo's plan that bugs me -- mainly that, in a way, it caves to the compulsion drivers have to text while behind the wheel. The rule-compliant person in me wants to say that it's ridiculous that we should have to designate space to people who can't obey the laws.
Then again, that kind of attitude isn't going to save lives.
Furthermore, unlike the State Highways in New York, cities now have to contend with a new breed of "drivers," or vehicle operators, including cyclists, skateboarders, and motor scooter drivers -- all of whom could do harm to themselves and others by combining those activities with texting. And if you think no one would be stupid enough to text while riding a skateboard, then you weren't in Manhattan on Sunday, where I saw a young man doing just that while rapidly rolling down 2nd Avenue (without wearing a helmet, naturally).
So, maybe designating some space in cities as "texting zones" would do the population well. But one question remains: Where would we even find the room?
Modern cities are currently grappling with outdated street design that doesn't consider the need for things like bike lanes, or pedestrian walkways and plazas. With the amount of space already devoted to the automobile, do we really want to carve out more room so that drivers (and the occasional biker and skateboarder) can pull over to read and send text messages?
Moreover, are drivers likely to use such zones, or will they ignore them and just go on texting while behind the wheel?
Before you answer, it's worth noting that, in New York, according to the DMV, fines for texting/emailing while driving range from $50 to $400. Perhaps I'm being too skeptical, but if these hefty fines haven't stopped drivers from texting, I remain unconvinced that such zones will even work.
— Nicole Ferraro, , Editor in Chief, UBM's Future Cities