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Changes to New York Cell Phone Laws Will Impact Drivers’ Records

In February, recent changes to New York’s cell phone traffic laws took effect. New York has had restrictions on cell phone use while driving since 2001, but now the law stipulates that chatting on a handheld device can leave a black mark on drivers’ records under New York’s driver violation point system. The consequences of racking up enough points are severe-motorists who receive enough cell phone citations can lose their driving privileges. As such, it is essential for commuters to understand the changes in the law and how it could affect them.

Distracted Driving and New York’s Point System

As evidenced by New York’s early adoption of laws targeting phone use in the car, the state has long been a leader in tackling distracted driving. And, the numbers display some good reason for concern: according to statistics compiled by the state, some 45,000 accidents in 2008 involved driver distraction or inattention, accounting for about 18 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in New York.

While distracted driving was involved in a number of accidents, cell phone use accounted for a relatively small portion of these collisions. In 2008, just under 500 accidents in New York, or less than half a percent, involved either hand held or hands free cell phone use.

According to a study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), the most deadly driver distraction is actually reaching for an object – which is three times likely to cause an accident than cell phone use. Just the same, proponents of New York’s cell phone restrictions would argue that the low number of collisions involving cell phones is proof of the effectiveness of the law, and that any number of accidents caused by distraction is too many.

For those advocating for reduced cell phone use by drivers, the new changes to the law are another step in the right direction. Effective February 16, 2011, all drivers ticketed for handheld cell phone use in New York will receive 2 driver violation points on their driving record. Previously, drivers using a handheld cell phone while behind the wheel (except to call 911) could receive a citation and up to $185 in fines. Now, in addition to these financial penalties, drivers will have a mark on their record in the form of driver violation points – points which could lead to the loss of driving privileges.

In New York, drivers who commit moving violations are assessed a certain number of points based on the severity of the offense. For example, speeding by less than 10 miles per hour over the posted limit will earn you 3 points, whereas a citation for following too closely carries a 4 point penalty. Once you have accumulated 11 or more points in the last 18 months, the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend your driver’s license.

And of course, the point system is not always as simple as it seems. There are a few things that all drivers should keep in mind:

  • Although the 18 month time period runs from the date the offense was committed, you must be convicted in order to be assessed points. Basically, if you successfully defend a traffic ticket in court your point total will not be impacted.
  • After the 18 month time period has passed, violation information still remains on your record. Even though the points from an offense drop from your total after 18 months, this does not mean your driver record has been wiped clean.
  • Receiving 11 driver violation points is not the only way to lose your license. Some offenses have mandatory revocation, regardless of their point values. For example, three speeding convictions in 18 months can automatically lead to having your license suspended or revoked.

Getting Help

The changes to New York’s laws make using a handheld device while driving potentially far more costly than it was before. Losing the right to drive can be a major inconvenience affecting work, family, and leisure activities. If you have been cited for handheld cell phone use or other moving violations, contact an attorney experienced in fighting traffic tickets.

Even if a questionable citation may not seem worth challenging when it is issued, it can affect your record for the next 18 months, so it may be worth fighting. For most people, the continued ability to drive is too important to leave to chance so it can be worth fighting the traffic citation.