Governor Cuomo Signs Law Strengthening Enforcement Against Drivers Caught Using Handheld Electronic Devices

New Legislation Makes Using Handheld Electronic Devices while Driving a Primary Traffic Offense; Additional Regulation will Increase Penalty from 2 Points to 3 Points for Cell Phone and Electronic Device Usage While Driving

Albany, NY (July 12, 2011) Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed a new law that strengthens the enforcement against drivers who use handheld electronic devices for activities such as texting while a vehicle is in motion. The legislation makes this action a primary traffic offense, giving law enforcement the power to stop drivers solely for engaging in this activity.   The Governor also announced today that he will increase the penalty for using a cellular phone without a hands-free device or a handheld device while driving from two to three points through changes in state regulations.   “I am proud to sign this bill today, both as the Governor and as a father of three teenagers,” Governor Cuomo said. “It’s plain and simple: distracted driving leads to tragedies that have affected families all across New York.

This new law will help ensure that drivers keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. I thank Senator Marcellino and Assemblyman Weisenberg for their hard work on this legislation.”   Before this law, it was illegal for drivers to use handheld electronic devices while their vehicle was in motion, but it was a secondary traffic offense — meaning a driver had to be stopped for another violation in order to receive a ticket.   The new law makes it a primary traffic offense and it will go into effect immediately. The monetary penalty for a violation of this law continues to be a fine of up to $150.   Illegal activity includes holding an electronic device and:

  • Composing, sending, reading, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving electronic data such as e-mail, text messages, or webpages
  • Viewing, taking, or transmitting images
  • Playing games

The law does not penalize drivers using a handheld electronic device that is affixed to a surface or using a GPS device that is attached to the vehicle. The law also exempts police officers, fire fighters, or emergency vehicle drivers while they are performing their duties. In addition, a driver is exempt from the law if the driver is communicating or attempting to communicate with law enforcement, the fire department, or medical personnel during an emergency situation.

New York State Senator Carl L. Marcellino said, “With this new legislation, New York State driving laws have finally caught up with today’s technology. Our new law will strengthen enforcement against drivers using handheld electronic devices and help keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe. I am proud to stand with Governor Cuomo as he signs the bill I sponsored into law and we finally make distracted driving a serious offense.”   New York State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg said, “As a former police officer, I’ve seen the devastation caused by distracted drivers. Today, we are giving law enforcement the tools they need to keep our roads safe and prevent future accidents. These changes will save lives. I’d like to thank Governor Cuomo for supporting this law and I look forward to our continued work together.”

New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said, “Motorists should now realize the dangers of operating a motor vehicle while texting on mobile devices or talking on a cell phone without an approved hands-free device. This change in the statute will allow law enforcement to continue the battle against distracted driving. Distracted driving is dangerous driving and drivers must reduce diversion and behaviors that take their attention from the road. Attentive, responsible, defensive driving is the key to avoiding crashes and keeping our highways safe.”   New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said, “It’s no secret that violations of the no-texting and no use of hand held devices while driving rules are widespread despite their nexus to accidents, including fatalities. This legislation is a welcome step toward saving lives.”

President of AAA New York State Thomas Hoy said, “With nearly 2 trillion text messages sent last year, texting represents the most dangerous form of distracted driving. We applaud the Governor and lawmakers for stiffening the consequences for those who jeopardize the rest of us with their careless conduct.”   The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 16% of fatal accidents in 2009 were due to distracted driving and 20% of people injured during a crash were involved in a crash where distracted driving was reported. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of a crash or near crash.