The Queens Gazette: Seek Tougher Laws for Motorists

June 22, 2011

By Liz Goff

Assemblymember David Weprin (D-Little Neck) said last week he would push for new legislation that bans motorists from smoking in vehicles carrying children under age 14.

“A child under the age of 14 is less likely to speak up,” Weprin said. “It is of utmost importance to protect our children, whose bodies are still developing and who often do not have a voice of their own.”

The law would apply to private passenger vehicles, even in cars where the windows are down. The goal of the ban is to reduce the amount of secondhand smoke inhaled by children, Weprin said.

Anyone caught smoking in a car with a child under the age of 14 would be fined up to $100 by police and other law enforcement agents. The bill doesn’t violate constitutional rights, and is similar to seat belt laws and bans on texting while driving, he said.

Under the law, if a police officer or other law enforcement agent believes a driver is violating the law, they can stop the vehicle to question the age of young passengers.

The bill has the support of the American Lung Association of New York and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), who said exposure to secondhand smoke as a child has been linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), severe respiratory infections such as chronic bronchitis and pneumonia, an increased number of asthma attacks and ear infections. Smoking causes breathing problems and slows lung growth in young children, Weprin said.

Four other states, Maine, Louisiana, Arkansas and California have already passed similar legislation. Smoking in vehicles is also prohibited in Rockland County with passengers younger than 18 and a similar bill is pending in Nassau County.

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced new legislation that would toughen existing penalties for distracted drivers such as motorists caught using portable electronic devices while driving.

If the bill is approved, drivers would receive three points on their license for using a hand-held cellphone or portable device. Under the law, accumulating 11 points on your driver’s license within 18 months would result in a suspended license.

Under current law, driving while using a portable electronic device, i.e., texting, using an iPad™, etc., is a secondary offense carrying two points and a $150 fine. Drivers suspected of a secondary offense can only be pulled over if they commit another offense like speeding or running a stop sign or traffic signal.

The proposed legislation elevates such actions to primary offenses allowing police to pull over drivers caught texting behind the wheel.

Cuomo said he hopes the legislation is passed before the end of the current legislative session which ends June 30.