Flickr photo

ITHACA, N.Y. — The Ithaca Police Department and the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office is cracking down on distracted driving and will soon offer a course on the subject for first-time offenders.

Texting, talking on the phone, eating and anything else that takes a driver’s attention off the road is considered distracted driving. In 2015, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If a person takes their eyes off the road for five seconds to send a text while traveling about 55 miles per hour they will travel about the length of a football field, essentially with “eyes closed,” the NHTSA says.

Because of high risks associated with distracted driving, the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office and Ithaca Police Department say they are taking a hard stance against violations related to distracted driving. The agencies are working together to offer a program “that will hopefully increase the safety of everyone on the roadways in the City of Ithaca as it relates to distracted driving,” the IPD said in a news release.

In 2017 so far, Ithaca police officers have given out an average of 19 tickets per month for distracted driving.

A Distracted Driving Diversion Class being offered soon will be eligible to first-time violators of New York’s portable electronic device and cell phone laws. The class will focus on the dangers of distracted driving. First-time violators who take the class and present proof to the Assistant District Attorney may avoid the five-point DMV penalty.

The benefits of the class are not available when the motorist is charged with distracted driving in addition to any penal law offense, the Ithaca Police Department said. Offenders who choose not to take the class will not be able to plead to a lesser offense for portable electronic device and cell phone violations.

The classes will be offered on the first Tuesday of every month, except November, at 6 p.m. in the Borg Warner Room at the Tompkins County Public Library. The first class will take place Sept. 5. The classes are meant for first-time offenders, but are also open to the public.

There is no charge to take the class.

Anyone with questions can contact Sgt. Barry Banfield of the Ithaca Police Department at 607-272-9973 or Assistant District Attorney Brad Rudin at 607-274-5461.

Featured image: “Texting While Driving” by Intel Free Press is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.