Texting While Driving

NYS Traffic Violation VTL 1225-D

With the rapid growth of cellular technology in the United States, a series of new laws have been implemented around the country. These laws seek to protect drivers and pedestrians from the distractions presented by texting, Facebook-ing, emailing, and other cell phone activities while a driver is at the wheel. Some reports indicate that texting while driving makes an accident 23x more likely to occur. This dramatic increase has prompted state legislatures to take action.

In New York, texting while driving laws have had a several-year history. In November of 2009, a law prohibited drivers from reading, writing, or sending text messages or playing games on their portable electronic devices (including phones, pagers, etc.) while they were behind the wheel. This law was Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225-D and enacted a $150.00 (maximum) fine for those caught texting and driving. An aspect of this law made it difficult for drivers to defend their actions if they were holding their phone in a conspicuous way but claimed not to be using it.

There were, however, exceptions to this NYS Traffic Violation VTL 1225-D. Emergency situations exempted drivers from the law, and emergency personnel (police officers, firemen, etc.) were exempt as well. Additionally, drivers could only be summonsed for texting and driving if they were pulled over for committing another, provable moving violation. This prevented law enforcement officials from stopping drivers solely for texting and driving and created a glaring loophole in the original law.

But a second, more restrictive law was enacted in 2011 under Governor Cuomo’s administration. Within a month of his taking office, Governor Cuomo pushed through an amendment to the 2009 law that made it lawful for police officers to pull over a driver solely for holding their electronic devise while driving as this behavior was indicative of use while driving.

Electronic devises were still defined broadly, and the new law meant that a law enforcement official could issue a ticket to a driver for texting and driving without also needing to issue a ticket for a concurrent moving violation. The 2011 law retained the $150.00 fine as part of the distracted driver law, and it increased the point value added to a driver’s license from 2 points to 3 points.

Another update to the law in 2013 issued stricter guidelines for drivers with a probationary license or a learner’s permit. These offenses resulted in a mandatory suspension of the license or permit for 60 days. There were additional consequences for a second conviction within six months.

Distracted driving plays a role in millions of car and pedestrian accidents in the United States every year, including New York State. The Governor’s office reported that from 2005 to 2011, distracted driver accidents increased 143%. With states enacting stricter penalties for offenders of texting and driving laws, lawmakers hope to decrease the prevalence of such accidents and make the roads safer for everyone.