What New York Law Says About Texting or Talking While Driving
You know what your conscience tells you: using a cell phone while driving is dangerous. It isn’t fair to anyone, it’s totally unnecessary, and it’s downright wrong.
You also know what common sense says: it simply isn’t possible to pay attention to two things at once.
But what does the law say about distracted driving in New York?
That’s a fair question because every state addresses texting and driving differently. Some are fairly permissive; others are extremely strict. New York falls somewhere in between — closer to the strict end of the spectrum, but not as close as safety advocates would like.
Mind you, the law here has changed — and it might change again. Legislatures always struggle to keep pace with technology. As the crash and fatality data continue to make a compelling case for enhanced penalties, it is possible that New York will enact even harsher measures in the year to come. Moreover, advances in self-driving and driver-assist technologies could eventually change the whole equation.
For now, though, make sure that you and your family (especially your teen drivers) understand the very latest distracted driving laws in New York. We lay them out below.
What Is the Law on Using Cell Phones While Driving in New York?
It is unlawful to use any portable electronic device for any purpose while operating a motor vehicle within the state of New York.
That’s the general rule, both strict and straightforward. You’ll find that some other states are more equivocating in their prohibition against cell phones in the hands of drivers. New York cuts to the chase: don’t do it.
That said, there are exceptions. (Ah yes, the devil in the details.) We’ll look at those in the next section.
But first, let’s consider what it means to “use an electronic device” behind the wheel.
Specifically, the distracted driving law in New York applies to:
- Sending or reading text messages
- Reading or composing an email
- Playing games
- Playing music
- Talking on the phone
- Reading or interacting with social media
- Using a GPS or navigation app (but see the exceptions below)
…This isn’t a comprehensive list. Almost any use of a portable electronic device (e.g. iPhone, iPad, Android, gaming device, flip phone, Kindle, etc.) while driving is effectively unlawful in New York. Naturally, passengers are allowed to use these devices, but even they should be careful not to distract the driver in the process.
Exceptions to the Rule: When Is It Okay to Use a Cell Phone While Driving in NY?
New York’s legislature stopped short of altogether banning electronic devices from driver’s hands, carving out a few exceptions.
As the law stands now, drivers in New York are permitted to use:
- Hands-free devices (e.g. Bluetooth, talk to text, built-in hands-free phones, etc.)
- GPS or other electronic navigation devices if they are attached to the vehicle
- Portable electronic devices in the scope of operating an emergency vehicle, such as an ambulance
- Handheld electronic devices in the event of an emergency
If you’ve been injured by a distracted driver, he or she might try to argue they were acting under one of these exceptions. An experienced New York car accident attorney can help you investigate those claims and fight back against them.
Even if the driver successfully defeats their traffic ticket, he or she may still be liable for your injuries in the accident.
We should also point out that just because something is lawful doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. Driver studies have shown that hands-free devices, while not prohibited under the texting while driving laws in New York, do pose a cognitive distraction to drivers.
Distracted Driving Fines in New York
The penalties for using a cell phone while driving in New York are:
- First offense: Minimum fine of $50 (Maximum fine: $200)
- Second offense within 18 months: Maximum fine increases to $250
- Third offense within 18 months: Maximum fine increases to $450
These penalties went into effect on November 1, 2014, reflecting an increase over the comparatively smaller fines that had previously been in effect.
Additionally, as of June 1, 2013, a ticket for texting while driving in New York will add five points to your state driving record (up from the three-point penalty that was in effect between 2011 and 2013).
Receiving 11 points within any 18-month period means your driving privileges could be suspended.
Even stronger fines apply for very young drivers (and certain other categories of motorists). We’ll cover some of those penalties in the sections to follow.
Are the Distracted Driving Laws Different for Teen Drivers?
Young drivers are subject to the same distracted driving laws in New York: no portable electronic devices allowed unless one of the exceptions outlined above applies.
But as of November 1, 2014, young drivers face even steeper penalties for texting and driving than do adults.
Any person under the age of 21 who is convicted of their first distracted driving offense in New York faces a 120-day suspension of their driving privileges (driver’s license or driving permit).
A second offense by the same driver within six months of their driving privileges being restored could mean losing those privileges for one full year.
What About Distracted Driving Laws for School Bus Drivers and Taxi Drivers?
New York is pretty tough on taxi drivers who text while working. All cell phone use is banned for taxi drivers, including hands-free communication devices. As of 2008, a first offense results in a $350 fine.
You might expect the same rule to apply to school bus drivers — or city bus drivers, for that matter. Not so. Those drivers are subject to the same rules as everyone else, meaning they’re allowed to use hands-free devices while operating the bus (though their employers might have stricter policies in place).
Many states have banned hands-free devices for bus drivers. Safety experts are currently calling on New York to do the same. Whether the legislature will modify the rules remains to be seen.
Are Other Kinds of Distracted Driving Illegal in New York Too?
New York’s distracted driving law pertains narrowly to using cell phones and other e-devices behind the wheel.
As you already know, though, there are many other kinds of distractions — radio, food, friends, makeup, air conditioning controls, and the list goes on.
The statute does not address those forms of distracted driving. But that doesn’t mean drivers have cart blanche to embrace any analog distraction they please.
Every single driver has a legal duty to behave reasonably on the road. Similarly, each driver owes a duty of care to the others around them — motorists, passengers, bikers, pedestrians, construction crews, and so on.
Causing an accident because you were distracted is a breach of that duty. In other words, it is negligence. And the drivers who do that can be held liable for the injuries they cause. An experienced New York auto accident lawyer can help.
Schedule a Free Car Accident Case Review with O’Connor and Partners
Have you been injured in an auto accident and suspect that someone’s cell phone use (or other distracting behavior) was to blame?
Even if you aren’t sure whether the driver was texting, we encourage you to give us a call. In many instances, we are able to work with accident reconstruction specialists and investigators to learn more about what truly caused the crash. Moreover, you may be entitled to substantial financial compensation regardless of whether you can prove your smartphone suspicions.
Our firm fights hard to maximize compensation for the clients we represent. That means taking an assertive stand against insurance companies and demanding every single penny you deserve.
At O’Connor & Partners, we are happy to offer no-cost, no-risk consultations. Even better, if you do end up hiring us after the consultation, we will not charge a fee unless we get you money first.
We serve clients in Kingston, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, the Hudson Valley, New York City, and the surrounding area. If you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you! Just contact us online or call 845-303-8777 to talk with an experienced Kingston car accident lawyer today.