Many people have probably read in the news about the new increased penalty that went into effect in New York for drivers caught texting behind the wheel.  Under the new law, which went into effect on June 1, 2013, any driver convicted of texting while driving will have 5 points added to their driving record.  Put into perspective, this is a more severe penalty than driving 85mph where the speed limit is 65mph.

This increase to 5 points is substantial, as any driver who receives 11 points or more in an 18-month period, may have their license suspended.

As of July 26, 2013, new fines go into effect as well, with repeat offenders getting fined up to $200, and third time offenders getting fined up to $400 per conviction plus a New York State surcharge.

New York and the nation at large are cracking down on electronic distractions behind the wheel.

On April 23, 2013, the U.S. Transportation Secretary released guidelines to automakers that encourage limitations on the amount of distractions caused by electronic devices while driving; including music and navigation systems.  This followed closely on the heels of an April Report titled: The Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety Critical Event Risk, issued by the US Department of Transportation, which is available to read here.  In sum, the report found that drivers using electronic devices while driving were THREE TIMES as likely to get into an accident compared to those drivers not using an electronic device while driving.

So what is the real significance of the new law in New York? It is far more than just texting.  The law, found in Section 1225-d of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, states that anyone using an electronic device for almost any purpose can be convicted.  Further still, if an officer sees you holding an electronic device in a conspicuous manner while driving, it will be presumed that you are “using” that device and you will likely be charged with this offense.   So what is “using” an electronic device?

Here are some examples of actions that constitute “using” an electronic device under this law:

  • Changing the songs on your iPod.
  • Getting GPS directions to someone’s house or business.
  • Taking a picture or video.
  • Reading your email.
  • Accessing Facebook.
  • Tweeting.
  • Checking the weather.
  • Checking baseball scores.

There is, however, a limited exception for people using an electronic device during a time of emergency to contact police, fireman, or medical staff.

At LaMarche Safranko Law, we urge you to please put your cell phones down when driving.  Not just for your own benefit, but for the benefit of all the drivers and pedestrians around you as well.  Texts are never that important, and Facebook will still be available when you arrive at your destination.