Texting while driving is now a primary traffic offense in New York, which means law enforcement officers can stop drivers solely for using a handheld electronic device while behind the wheel.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the new law July 12. Previously it was against the law to use a handheld cell phone or other electronic device while driving, but it was a secondary offense--drivers had to be stopped for another violation to be ticketed.
The governor also announced he will increase the penalty for using a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device from two to three points through changes in state regulations. The monetary penalty continues to be a fine of up to $150.
"I am proud to sign this bill today, both as the governor and as a father of three teenagers," he said in a statement. "It's plain and simple: distracted driving leads to tragedies that have affected families all across New York. This new law will help ensure that drivers keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."
Illegal electronic device activities under the new law
Under New York law, drivers cannot hold an electronic device and:
- Compose, send, read, access browse, transmit, save or retrieve electronic data
- View, take or transmit images
- Play games
A driver who is trying to communicate with law enforcement or emergency personnel in an emergency is exempt.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 16 percent of fatal accidents in 2009 were due to distracted driving and 20 percent of people injured during a crash were involved in an accident where distracted driving was reported. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of a crash or near crash.
Distracted driving also leads to higher car insurance rates because it contributes to accidents, which raise insurers' costs.