Strengthening of NY Distracted Driving Law Has Car Insurance Implications

Blonde Woman Text Messaging on Her Cell Phone While DrivingThe New York Department of Motor Vehicles announced this week that there may be additional financial consequences for drivers who are caught talking on cell phones while behind the wheel.

Starting on Wednesday motorists who are convicted of violating the state ban on using a hand-held phone while driving will receive two points on their driving records for the infraction.

While the traffic violation already carried a fine of up to $100, the addition of the points means that drivers could see further financial hurdles down the road in the form of somewhat higher New York auto insurance prices.

Car insurance companies always look at a driving record when assessing how much of a risk a particular individual poses and how much to charge to insure that risk. Generally, insurers are looking for things like drunk driving violations, speeding tickets, reckless driving citations and evidence of serious accidents–things indicating that a motorist is a higher-than-average risk. But they may also notice and take into account smaller infractions.

How much a motorist’s premiums may be affected by having a couple of points on a record, though, will differ from company to company. Every insurer has a different method for weighing risk.

“It is difficult to quantify whether the state’s new rules—adding two points to the license of a driver convicted of driving while talking on a cell phone—will raise anyone’s rates,” said Michael Barry, the vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute. “Auto insurers examine dozens of variables when assessing risk.”

Generally, if a traffic violation is the first for a driver, insurers may allow rates to go unchanged.

But the extent to which a coverage provider does raise rates because of an infraction will usually reflect how much risk is associated with that particular infraction.

According to a press release from the state DMV, about 20 percent of crashes in the state are at least partially attributed to driver distraction, though these cases are not limited to distractions involving cell phone use.

The DMV notes that New York was the first state in the nation to implement a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving. It went into effect in 2001.

Since then, more than 300,000 cell phone–related tickets have been issued statewide each year.

New York regulations enacted in 2009 already dictate that two points are added to a driving record when a motorist is convicted of texting while driving.

Massachusetts recently made a similar move to give greater teeth to its cell phone law at the end of 2010 when it established “negligent operation and injury from mobile phone use” as a criminal offense that insurers could use as grounds to raise rates.

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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