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New York Strengthens Distracted Driving Law

Since 2009, it has been illegal to send or read a text message or email while driving a vehicle in the state of New York. However, the 2009 law made texting while driving a secondary offense; meaning that the driver first had to be stopped for something else, such as running a stop sign or speeding before the driver could be ticketed for texting.

Governor Cuomo and the New York Legislature, however, did not feel that the 2009 distracted driving law was tough enough.

Just signed and taking effect immediately is a new, strengthened ban on the use of handheld electronic devices, which includes texting or emailing while driving. The law makes texting while driving (and other cell phone distractions) a primary offense, which means that police officers can stop and ticket a driver for texting without the driver having to commit another offense. The law also increases the penalty that a driver will face for texting by raising the number of points that are added to a license from two to three. Drivers will still be potentially facing a fine of up to $150.

Specifically, the law bans:

  • Writing, reading, sending, accessing, retrieving, browsing, transmitting or saving electronic data, including email, text messages or the web pages
  • Viewing, taking or sending pictures
  • Playing games on a phone

The law does provide for exceptions to the law. For instance, law enforcement, fire fighters and other emergency workers are exempt while on duty. In an emergency situation a driver may also attempt to communicate with police officers, fire fighters or other emergency workers. Also, navigation systems that are affixed or built into a vehicle are exempted.

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