Tougher Penalties For Texting While Driving To Protect New Yorkers On The Road

Phil Boyle

June 04, 2013

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced actions to strengthen penalties for texting-while-driving to protect New Yorkers on the road. The Governor has directed the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to implement tougher penalties for texting-while-driving for all drivers and proposed new penalties for texting-while-driving for young and new drivers. In addition, the Governor has directed the New York State Police to increase enforcement of the texting-while-driving ban. This will mean more checkpoints and troopers patrolling on the roads across the state throughout the summer when more drivers are on the road.

In July 2011, Governor Cuomo signed a new law to strengthen enforcement of texting-while-driving violations which made using a handheld electronic device for activities such as texting while driving a primary traffic offense, giving law enforcement the power to stop motorists solely for engaging in this activity. Additionally, the penalty for using a handheld device while driving was increased from two to three points. Since this law was passed, there has been a 234% increase in the number of tickets issued for texting while driving in New York State from 2011 to 2012.

Statistics show that texting and using a cellphone while driving is a growing trend, whereas alcohol-related driving has declined.
· From 2005 to 2011, there has been an approximately 143% increase in cell phone-related crashes in New York State. In that same time period, there has been an approximately 18% decrease in alcohol-related crashes in New York State.
· In 2011, there were 25,165 fatal and personal injury crashes involving distracted driving in New York, compared to 4,628 caused by alcohol-related driving.
· In New York State, the number of tickets issued for texting-while-driving (30,166) approached the number of DWI/DWAI arrests (43,954) in 2012. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, there was a 234% increase in the number of tickets issued for texting while driving. In the same time period, there was a 4% decrease in the number of DWI/DWAI arrests.

For young and new drivers who text while driving, inattention and inexperience is a deadly combination that puts themselves and others at risk. Still, 43% of teenage drivers admit that they regularly text while driving, according to research released at a recent poster session of the Pediatric Academic Societies.
· Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds which is the equivalent – at 55 miles per hour – of driving the length of an entire football field while blind. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)
· There are three main types of distraction while driving: Visual (taking your eyes off the road); Manual (taking your hands off the wheel); and Cognitive (taking your mind off what you are doing). Texting-while-driving involves all three types. (Centers for Disease Control)

DMV will increase the number of points earned against an individual’s driving record upon conviction for texting-while-driving and cell-phone related infractions from the current three points to five points. This is effective tomorrow for all drivers.

The Governor is also proposing legislation that would establish tough new penalties for young and new drivers convicted of texting-while-driving.

Under current law, probationary and junior licenses are suspended for 60 days for violations such as speeding, reckless driving, or following too closely behind another vehicle. Such licenses are revoked for 6 months (for probationary licenses) or 60 days (for junior licenses) if there is another violation within 6 months of the license being restored.

The Governor's proposed legislation will impose the same penalties on drivers with probationary and junior licenses for texting-while-driving that they now receive for speeding and reckless driving: 60-day suspensions for first convictions and revocations of 60 days (for junior licenses) or 6 months (for probationary licenses) for subsequent convictions within 6 months of the time a license is restored after suspension.

DMV Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala said, “With the increased use of mobile devices, we have all become more concerned about safety on our highways. I congratulate Governor Cuomo on his continued efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and for putting increased penalties in place for those who engage in the dangerous behavior of texting while driving.”

New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said, “Distracted drivers will not be tolerated in New York State. Drivers who text or talk on mobile devices while behind the wheel not only take their attention from the road, but also put lives at risk. Our message is clear - motorists who use a cell phone or electronic device while driving will be ticketed.”

John A. Corlett, Legislative Committee Chairman for AAA New York State, said, “Texting-while-driving is one of the riskiest behaviors any driver can undertake and poses a danger to everyone on our roads. AAA also strongly supports the Governor’s plan to impose new penalties for texting-while-driving on new and younger drivers. There’s no reason that our least experienced drivers – teens with whom we are working to keep safe through graduated driver licensing and driver education, should be doing anything other than focusing on driving. In fact, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death and injury for teens and surveys indicate texting is even more prevalent among young novice drivers. What that tells us is that even tougher penalties need to be put in place to affect behavior change.”

Rocco Panetta, Executive Director of The Texting Awareness Foundation, said, “Acknowledging how severe the danger is by increasing the penalties are a great step towards saving lives. The second step is to provide educational programs to inform the community of the danger in order to change this deadly behavior.”

Ben Lieberman, Co-Chair of Distracted Operators Risk Casualties, who lost his son in a car crash, attended today’s news conference with Governor Cuomo.

Ben Lieberman said, “To say smartphone-driving impairs you to the level of a drunk driving is almost cliché nowadays. Most motorists know that drunk-driving comparison and truly believe the stat. You don't need an academic study to prove that if you take your eyes off the road, you are more likely to crash. Yet the behavior continues and traffic casualties are increasing rather than decreasing. Thank you Governor Cuomo for treating this epidemic with urgency and common sense. Legislation that will deter this destructive behavior is badly needed and we are grateful for your passion and determination.”