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Wed., Apr. 16
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Cellphones have brought the world to our fingertips.

Mobile communication devices have long been popular items. From walkie-talkies to CB radios, being able to interact with someone else while on the move has reaped huge benefits.

Advancements in cellular technology several decades ago meant that car phones were no longer used primarily by wealthy individuals riding in limousines. Members of our busier society needed more immediate access to information, and these devices filled that void.

Further enhancements meant that people who could install a phone inside their car could easily use a handheld phone anywhere. While bulky by today’s standards, these cellular phones altered the course of our communications revolution.

Once industry experts found a way to make cellphones smaller and more user-friendly, they imagined new ways they could deliver information. The smartphones we possess today are true marvels in their ability to provide us with the Internet, videos, emails, photographs and text messages. All this is in addition to being able to speak to virtually anyone else on the planet.

But these new possibilities have brought unintended consequences. Yes, we want the world at our fingertips — but we can’t have it crashing through our windshield in the process.

Increased cellphone use among motorists has plagued community leaders and public safety officials. Distracted drivers are now even more of a hazard on our roadways than ever before.

Young people today grew up with the technology that connects us all to more people and a wider selection of information. They take it for granted that they can research a homework assignment, locate the nearest sporting goods store to buy a new pair of athletic shoes and send a message to their parents to say they’ll be home late — all by staring at a handheld device.

But sending and receiving information via a cellphone has become so routine for young people that many of them think nothing of doing it behind the wheel of a car. Combined with the fact that they are among the worst drivers, this scenario often doesn’t bode well for anyone.

According to statistics by the U.S. Department of Transportation, 11 percent of all drivers younger than 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the accident. No other age group has a higher percentage of distracted drivers, the USDT said. Of drivers ages 15 to 19 involved in fatal crashes, 21 percent of the drivers were distracted by using cellphones, according to the statistics.

Increased fines for texting while driving went into effect throughout New York State in July. Fines for first-time offenders increased from $50 to $150, while fines for second-time offenders who text and drive within 18 months of another offense increased from $50 to $200. And fines for offenders who violate the law at least three times increased from $50 to $400.

These increases were an appropriate measure to curtail a potentially deadly practice. We hope it makes some people think before reaching for their cellphone while driving a car.

While this behavior is more problematic for young people than any other age group, this issue does not exclude everyone else. Anyone who tries to dial a phone number, read an email or send a text message while operating a car is asking for trouble.

The well-being of other people is in our hands when we drive. Let’s all make sure we concentrate on safety first while behind the wheel. Responding to the message sent by your BFF can wait.

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