Traffic fatalities have been on the rise over the past few years, especially deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists resulting from collisions with cars. While statistical reporting methods have not fully caught up to the changes in how we live, drive and communicate, many experts believe that distracted driving—specifically cellphone use while driving—has contributed significantly to the trend.
Of the 37,461 lives lost on U.S. roads in 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 3,450 people were killed in distraction-related crashes, but some experts believe that number is too low.
Regardless, April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the New York State Police have announced a statewide crackdown on New York distracted driving — dubbed Operation Hang Up — from Thursday, April 12, through Monday, April 16. During that five-day period, troopers in marked and unmarked vehicles will aggressively ticket drivers using handheld devices. During a similar five-day campaign last year, state police issued more than 2,000 tickets for distracted driving.
New York state has been a leader in advancing legislation aimed at curbing New York distracted driving, introducing a handheld cellphone ban in 2001. Since then, the distracted-driving laws in New York state have only become stricter and the penalties steeper.
New York drivers are not allowed to use handheld electronic devices while operating a vehicle. This ban refers to composing, sending, reading, browsing, transmitting e-mails or text messages, viewing or transmitting images, or playing games. Drivers are allowed to use a cellphone or GPS device only if it is attached to the dashboard or other surface, or if the driver is using a hands-free accessory. Drivers may use a handheld phone to report an emergency.
Commercial vehicle drivers also are prohibited from using handheld devices and are limited to using hands-free accessories requiring no more than one touch to dial or answer a call.
Unlike in some states, drivers under the age of 18 may use cellphones with a hands-free accessory. However, as more and more people who grew up with cellphones are now becoming licensed drivers, there is grave concern that some young adults will ignore the law or underestimate the dangers that distracted driving poses to pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles, until it’s too late.
Current state law includes the following penalties for New York distracted driving:
- For a first offense, the minimum fine is $50 and the maximum is $200. For a second offense in 18 months, the minimum fine remains at $50, but the maximum increases to $250. A third offense in 18 months results in a maximum fine of $450.
- Probationary and junior drivers face a 120-day suspension of their license for a first offense, and one-year revocation of their permit or license if a second offense is committed within six months.
For more information, visit http://www.safeny.ny.gov/phon-ndx.htm.