The parents of Even Lieberman, a 19-year-old college student killed in a 2011 car accident, are calling upon lawmakers to toughen distracted driving laws in New York. In response to their son’s death, which was caused in part by distracted driving, parents Ben and Debbie Lieberman formed the organization DORCs–Distracted Operators Risk Casualties. The organization seeks to inform the public about the dangers of distracted driving and calls upon state legislators to treat distracted driving as seriously as drunk driving.
While Plains resident Jacy Good, an advocate for DORCs, lost both of her parents and suffered a life-long injury as a result of being in a distracted driving car accident. Highlighting the dangers of distracted driving, Good stated, “It is critically important that distracted driving laws are as strictly enforced as drunk driving laws have become. We know that the simple act of having a conversation on a cell phone delays our reaction time and causes cognitive impairment resulting in attention blindness that leaves a driver with the same or worse driving ability as a driver with a .08 percent blood-alcohol content–the legal threshold for driving drunk.”
As detailed in a USA Today story, on the early morning of June 16, 2011, 19-year-old Michael Fiddle was driving Evan Lieberman and two other friends to their summer job on Long Island. Fiddle got into a head-on collision that killed Lieberman and injured the two other passengers. Fiddle claimed that he fell asleep at the wheel. He never faced any criminal charges as a result of the fatal accident. However, as a result of a civil lawsuit filed against Fiddle by Lieberman’s parents, investigators were able to subpoena Fiddle’s cell phone records at the time of the crash. Administrative Law Judge Donna Marinacci ruled that the records showed that Fiddle was texting at the time of the accident which “constituted gross negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle” and showed a “reckless disregard for life.” Fiddle’s license was suspended for one year as a result of the ruling.
Mount Pleasant Police Chief Lous Alagno stated that distracted driving accidents can be difficult to prove. He remarked, “Without a witness, we usually have no way of telling. We would have to subpoena records, which can take time. Right now, it’s difficult to prove.”
Under current New York State law, driving while using a portable electronic device, such as a cell phone, is illegal. Such use of a device includes talking on a hand-held phone, texting, emailing or playing video games. Drivers can talk on a hands-free device or use their phone to call 911 in an emergency. Currently, drivers caught using an electronic portable device may receive five points on their license and receive a fine. First time offenders will receive a fine ranging from $50 to $100, plus a $93 surcharge.