NY Warns Drivers of Beefed-Up Penalties for Texting While Driving

New York authorities are warning motorists ahead of the travel-heavy holidays that tough new changes to the state’s texting-while-driving law make it easier for scofflaws to be caught and stiffen the penalties for those who are convicted.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in July new legislation that made the use of an electronic device to send or receive messages, check email or perform similar actions behind the wheel a primary traffic offense. That means law enforcement officers may perform a traffic stop for no other reason than that they believe a driver is texting.

Texting and driving NY statsUnder the state’s original no-texting law, enacted in 2009, the crime was a secondary offense, meaning that an officer would have to spot another violation on a driver’s part in order to be able to pull him or her over.

Drivers who are busted for violating the beefed-up legislation will face fines of up to $150 and have three points added to their driving record, which could in turn cause a hike in their monthly premiums for auto insurance. The law also increased the penalty for talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving from two to three points.

“Distracted driving is dangerous, not only to the person doing the texting or game playing, but to everyone on the road,” Ossining Village Police Chief Joseph Burton said in a news release.

“In the recent change in the law, making texting a primary traffic infraction with stiff penalties, law enforcement is sending a clear message,” said Burton, who is also president of the Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association.

New York, the first state to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, is one of 35 states and Washington, D.C., that ban texting for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). And it’s one of 32 states that authorize primary enforcement of no-texting laws.

Washington in 2008 became the first state to outlaw texting while driving. Later legislation banned talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving, but the consequences for those infractions do not include any penalty points being added to a driver’s record, so motorists may not automatically face higher rates for their Washington auto insurance policies.

Insurers review driving records when assessing how great a risk a motorist poses and how much to charge in order to insure that risk. To what extent a driver’s premiums may be affected by having a couple of points on his or her record will differ between companies, however, as each insurer has a different method for weighing risk.

No state bans all cell phone use, according to GHSA, but nine states and the nation’s capital prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving, and many other states prohibit phone use–including texting–by novice motorists and school bus drivers.

Cuomo announced earlier this year that the tougher new laws in his state had led to law enforcement officials issuing twice as many tickets for texting-related traffic offenses in August 2011 as during the same month the previous year.

The 1,082 drivers ticketed for those violations last August, the first full month after tougher restrictions took effect, eclipsed the monthly average of 427 tickets issued statewide from January to June of this year.

“We were serious when this law passed: Texting while driving is illegal and the law is being enforced, so don’t do it,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Today’s message to drivers is to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.”

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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