Starts & Stops

Texting from the breakdown lane? Not cool, state police say

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative last week that will direct motorists on the state’s highways to "text stops" as part of a campaign against distracted driving.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative last week that will direct motorists on the state’s highways to "text stops" as part of a campaign against distracted driving. Credit: Associated Press

If you read Friday’s Globe, you may have seen our story on a State Police crackdown on texting while driving. The aggressive enforcement efforts, funded by a $275,000 federal grant, enabled police to catch more than 400 people typing on their phones from behind the wheel in one three-week period in June. Police are currently in a second wave of the effort that will last through mid-October.

But when I spoke to Lieutenant Stephen J. Walsh about the crackdown, he mentioned that police weren’t just enforcing the texting ban; they were also nabbing motorists for other distracted driving offenses, such as wearing two earbuds in their ears (you’re only allowed one), as well as pulling over in the breakdown lane to send a text message or conduct a phone call.

To which my response was: Wait, what?!?!

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Apparently, it is illegal to leave the travel lane on the highway and pull over into the breakdown lane unless your car has broken down, or if you’re having a personal emergency.

What you’re supposed to do: Get off at an exit and find a parking lot to draft messages, or wait for the next highway plaza. (That may be why this week, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the establishment of “designated texting zones” along the state’s highways.)

And yet, Walsh said, it’s becoming increasingly common to see people tap-tap-tapping on the side of the road as cars whiz by at 65 miles per hour. The danger, he says, is that accelerating or decelerating out of or into a breakdown lane is difficult, and it’s been known to cause accidents.

Additionally, state troopers are trained to spot people stranded on the side of the road and pull up behind them to determine if they need help; even though they may be waved away by a chatting driver, it’s still a waste of troopers’ time — and its a big risk, when it’s not uncommon for police cruisers to be struck from behind on the side of the highway.

It’s frustrating, Walsh said, because drivers believe idling on the shoulder of the road is the safest way to text.

“They think they’re doing the right thing,” Walsh said.

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