People found guilty of driving while talking on a cell phone in New York will have two penalty points assessed on their driving records, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced.
The change, which applies to offenses committed on or after Feb. 16 this year, aligns the point penalty for texting and talking on a cell phone while driving. Previously, no points were assigned for talking on a cell phone, although two points were assigned for texting while driving.
"Distracted driving is one of the most serious dangers on our roadways today," DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner J. David Sampson said in a press statement. "By strengthening the current law, our hope is that motorists will become even more aware of the potential consequences of their actions if they use a cell phone while driving."
In November 2001, New York became the first in the nation to adopt a statewide ban on handheld cell phone use while driving, and established a fine for the violation of up to $100. In November 2009, a law banning the use of portable electronic devices for texting while driving took effect. A violation carries a $150 fine, along with the two-point assessment.
New York state officials estimate driver distraction is a contributing factor in at least one out of five crashes. Each year more than 300,000 tickets are issued statewide for cell phone violations. In 2009, almost 5,500 people died nationwide in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver and more than 440,000 were injured, the department said.
Because it contributes to accidents, distracted driving leads to higher car insurance rates.