Central New York, Government, Public Safety, Transportation

Amid new state crackdown, Syracuse has already fixed problem of distracted driving

In the midst of a state-wide crackdown on distracted driving, Syracuse has already cured the problem locally. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

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Texting While Driving

Sergeant Gary Bulinski of the Syracuse Police Department believes a federal grant in 2010 is the reason for the city's success in combating distracted driving.

Beginning November 1st, a state-wide crackdown on distracted driving looks to reduce the number of offenders with harsher penalties, including longer license suspensions and steeper fines.

Syracuse, however, has already successfully combated the problem of distracted driving.  As of October 31st, the number of distracted driving tickets issued per year plummeted by almost 90% from 2011.

The success of the Syracuse Police Department to drastically reduce instances of this crime dates back to 2010.  In April of that year, the federal government issued a $300,000 grant to Syracuse and Hartford, CT., designed to put systems in place to stop distracted driving.

From November 2010 to October 2011, there were 2,095 distracted driving tickets issued by the Syracuse Police Department. However, as the grant money began to take effect, that number fell to 418 from November 2011 to October 2012, 339 the next year, and only 261 going up to October 31st of this year.

Sergeant Gary Bulinski, the commanding officer of Syracuse Police Department’s Traffic Division, said the grant has allowed the city to put more personnel on the street.  “They can use those funds to hire officers to work additional hours and help their efforts,” Bulinski said.

Bulinski also said the grant money ran out after one year.  However, after one offense or personal experience with distracted driving, he believes people will gradually begin to put their phone away behind the wheel.  “If they get ticketed or in a crash, they won’t do it again,”  Bulinski said.

As the recent crackdown results in more suspended licenses and hefty fines, Bulinski says the number of distracted drivers all across the state, and in Syracuse, will continue to drop.

The new law means young drivers will receive a 120-day license suspension for first offense, and a year-long suspension for a second offense.  In addition, fines for adults caught with their phones behind the wheel increased by $50.