Distracted driving in New York is a widespread issue that has seen more legislation against it in recent years than ever before. Distracted driving facts presented by the NY Office of Public Safety reveal that there has been a 918 percent increase in the number of traffic tickets distributed to drivers for texting since 2011, and the statewide crackdown on inattentive drivers only continues. However, distractions are everywhere on the road, and drivers keep using their phones despite the state’s efforts.

Because facts about distracted driving indicate that the roadways can be unsafe, it is essential that drivers recognize the distractions that may put them and others in danger. The following sections detail the laws in effect in New York today and how drivers can become more aware of distractions on the road. Finally, most accidents due to inattention can be avoided, if drivers take precautions.

What is distracted driving in New York?

In New York distracted driving is the interference of the act of driving by any personal, internal or external distractions. Examples of driving distractions within each of those categories are provided below:

  1. Personal distractions. Personal distractions such as inebriation, fatigue, daydreaming and putting on makeup can be catastrophic. These distractions also include texting and driving and are among the most dangerous distractions because they automatically demand a driver’s attention, whereas other distractions may be less intrusive.
  2. Internal distractions. Distracted driving resulting from internal distractions can also be detrimental. Anything that occurs within the vehicle that has the potential to disrupt a driver’s attention are considered internal distractions. Unlike personal distractions, internal ones are caused by passengers, objects or animals rather than the driver.
  3. External distractions. External distractions may be other motorists, bad weather, poor roads or distracting scenery. As their name implies, external distractions occur outside of the vehicle.

The NY Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee states that any type of distraction that takes place while a driver is behind the wheel can cause distracted driving accidents, so drivers must be aware of and avoid possible distractions while driving.

Distracted Driving Laws in New York for Handheld Devices

Distracted driving laws in NY primarily pertain to handheld devices such as cell phones, tablets or music players. Throughout the state, the following distracted driving regulations apply:

  • Drivers may not talk, text or access images or messages, play games or read on a portable electronic device while driving.
  • Drivers may not hold or interact with portable devices while driving.

Although most states enable drivers to use cellphones for voice communication only, NY restricts all uses of handheld devices. These rules apply to all drivers, except when they are stopped temporarily in traffic. Other exceptions to the distracted driving laws in NY may permit the use of certain devices and grant drivers permission to operate a handheld device in specific situations as well. A list of exceptions is as follows:

  • Hands-free devices may be used instead of handheld devices if drivers can operate them without using either hand.
  • Handheld devices attached to a vehicle via a mounting platform, cable or other connector such as a GPS may be used.
  • If drivers must contact emergency services, using any device is allowed.

Texting and Driving Laws in New York

Texting while driving in New York is a primary offense in the state, meaning that law enforcement officers may pull over drivers suspected of texting even if those drivers have not committed any other traffic violation. NY texting and driving laws were established in 2009 and made it illegal to text while a vehicle is in motion.

New York Laws on Distracted Driving for Novice Drivers

Currently, no distracted driving regulations are in place for novice or teen drivers beyond the handheld device ban for all drivers. Therefore, novice drivers (i.e., drivers younger than 18 years old) who have learner’s permits are subject to the same laws against distracted driving as other drivers.

New York Distracted Driving Regulations for CDL Holders

While texting and driving is illegal for all drivers in NY, regardless of their licenses or ages, some driving laws apply only to those with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). The following distracted driving laws apply to CDL holders in NY:

  • Commercial drivers may not make phone calls or interact with a portable device in any way while driving.
  • Commercial drivers may not text or call while temporarily stopped in traffic.

Under state law, motor carriers are prohibited from requiring commercial drivers to use mobile phones or devices while driving. To help stop distracted driving occurrences by CDL holders, law enforcement officers can legally presume that any commercial driver who is holding a portable device close to his or her ear is engaged in a call. However, if drivers of authorized emergency vehicles must use a handheld device to perform their duties, they are allowed to do so.

Distracted Driving Penalties in New York

Any driver who violates a distracted driving law will receive 5 violation points and a fine. The value of the fine will be printed on each distracted driving ticket and will reflect the number of previous offenses the driver has committed. For instance, a fine of $50 to $200 will be issued to drivers for first offenses. For second offenses within 18 months, drivers will incur a fine of $50 to $250.

However, novice drivers with a learners permit and drivers with probationary licenses may face stricter penalties. The following distracted driving penalties may apply to novice and probationary drivers:

  • A 120-day license or permit suspension
  • A revocation of license or permit for a minimum of one year

Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving in New York

To avoid distracted driving consequences, such as vehicle accidents or fines, drivers must practice safe driving. Drivers can use these tips for preventing distracted driving to remain safe on NY roadways:

  • Familiarize yourself with texting zones. Take advantage of designated texting spots that can guarantee you stay legal and safe when you need to send a quick text or make a call.
  • Listen to your needs. For example, if you are tired, it is best to find a place to stay for the night rather than risk falling asleep behind the wheel.
  • Turn off your electronic devices. While you drive, you should ensure your phone or tablet will not distract you by shutting them down completely or activating the do not disturb mode.
Last updated on Friday, September 21 2018.

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