Senator Kennedy Announces Tougher Penalties for Texting, Cell Phone Use While Driving

March 25, 2013

New provisions included in budget will strengthen efforts to crackdown on distracted driving on New York State’s roads and highways.

Kennedy: Stronger penalties send a clear message to distracted drivers: keep your eyes on the road and off your phone.

ALBANY, N.Y. – Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, announced the State Senate has approved stronger penalties for distracted driving as part of the 2013-14 budget. Kennedy explained the new provisions will strengthen state efforts to crackdown on texting while driving and other cell phone use while driving.

These measures are an annex of “Operation Hang-up” – an initiative created to deter drivers from using their cell phones while operating motor vehicles on the state’s roads and highways. Senator Kennedy spoke on the Senate floor to raise the volume on the urgent need to improve the safety of our roadways and call attention to the lives that can be saved by advancing efforts to end distracted driving. 

“Distracted driving has forced far too many families to endure preventable tragedies,” Kennedy said. “By cracking down on cell phone use behind the wheel, we will help prevent avoidable and unfortunate traffic accidents, improve the safety of our state’s roadways and ultimately save lives. These stronger penalties send a clear message to distracted drivers: keep your eyes on the road and off your phone.”

The law increases penalties and fines for individuals who put themselves and other drivers at risk by using a handheld electronic device while driving. It targets frequent offenders with specific provisions imposing harsher penalties for repeat violations. The new measure establishes enhanced fines when a driver commits a repeat distracted-driving offense. For a first offense, a violator must be fined at least $50 and can be fined up to $150. A second offense can result in a fine of up to $200, and fines for a third offense can go up to $400.

The budget also contains provisions to deter operators of large commercial motor vehicles from using cell phones while driving. Under this new measure, an individual’s Commercial Drivers License (CDL) may be suspended if he or she violates state laws against texting or other cell phone use while operating a large commercial vehicle. This brings state law into compliance with federal regulations. Failure to comply with federal rules would have put New York State in jeopardy of losing $64 million in federal highway aid and $8 million in Federal Motor Carrier Safey Administration program funding.

“With the launch of this new initiative to prevent distracted driving, New Yorkers will have safer roads for their daily commutes for years to come,” Kennedy added. “I thank my colleagues in the Legislature and Governor Cuomo for their support and leadership on this critical highway-safety issue.”

The budget bills, which include the tougher penalties for distracted driving, must now be approved by the Assembly and signed into law by the Governor.

Senator Kennedy has long been working to strengthen laws against distracted driving. As an Erie County legislator, Kennedy worked with Kelly Cline, a parent advocate who lost her son in a texting-while-driving accident in 2007, to push a ban on texting while driving through the Erie County Legislature. In 2011, Cline and Kennedy again joined forces – this time, to launch Families Against Texting While Driving, which helped lead the effort to pass a statewide ban on texting while driving.

The new state law made texting while driving a primary offense – which gives law enforcement the ability to stop a distracted driver for simply texting behind the wheel. In addition to fines, the penalty for using a handheld electronic device while driving was strengthened from two to three points on a driver’s license.


Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and nearly all of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at