Both hands on the wheel -- or else

Des Toups


Managing Editor

Police SUV

You might be doing just about anything with that other hand, but New York State Police are likely to take it as a sign you’re doing something you shouldn’t.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a $1 million enforcement effort for the state’s newly strengthened distracted-driving laws. A conviction for texting or using a handheld phone now brings five driver’s license demerit points rather than three. Penalties are even steeper for young drivers with provisional licenses: A first conviction brings a 60-day license suspension.

Some of the money will go toward new Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement vehicles -- bureaucratese for unmarked sport-utility vehicles that ride high enough that troopers can look inside other vehicles for electronics hidden in drivers’ laps.

"We sit a little higher so you can look down into vehicles," State Trooper Ian Henry told WTEN-TV. "If you don't see both hands on steering wheel, we try to see where the other hand is."

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New York’s anti-distraction law is primary, meaning troopers can pull a driver over just for that offense. (See “What you need to know about New York car insurance.”)

Cuomo’s office says distracted driving is responsible for about one crash in five. Last year, state and local law enforcement wrote more than 216,000 tickets for violations of the state’s hands-free law. A single distracted-driving ticket is unlikely to greatly affect anyone’s car insurance rates, but two probably would.

While we are no fans of distracted driving, it’s difficult to cheer the idea of three-ton, unmarked SUVs whose drivers peer into our laps. Low-flying drones seem a next logical step.

Our surveys have found that many drivers are willing to install a phone-blocking device in return for a discount. (See “Welcome aboard, Big Brother.”)

Will any insurance company ever take them up on it?

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