New York Cell Phone Laws and Distracted Driving
New York’s statewide distracted driving law currently states: All drivers must use hands-free devices when talking on cell phones. Text messaging, game playing, and similar usage of handheld electronic devices is prohibited for all drivers. Viewing, taking, or transmitting images is prohibited for all drivers.
The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the first state law in the nation to make it illegal to hold and use a cellphone while driving a car. This New York law that aimed at reducing distracted driving accidents took effect on November 1, 2001.
Today, 24 states and Washington, D.C. ban handheld cellphone use while driving. A total of 48 states and Washington ban texting while driving for all drivers, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA). No state completely bans cellphone use by all drivers including hands-free operations, but 37 states and Washington prohibit all cellphone use by novice drivers, and 23 states and Washington ban it for school bus drivers.
Despite the laws in New York and other states, 3,142 people were killed and an estimated 424,000 more were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), says.
At Tadchiev Law in Queens, NY, our car accident attorneys have found distracted driving to be among the leading causes of car accidents. Drivers who engage in this reckless behavior should be held accountable, especially when they cause accidents and injure other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Our experienced attorneys are ready to help accident victims injured by distracted drivers.
What is Distracted Driving?
The N.Y. Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee defines distracted driving broadly with a focus on “driver inattention.”
Driver inattention includes any one of the following:
- Driver engagement in secondary tasks
- Driver drowsiness
- Driving-related inattention to the forward roadway
- Non-specific eye glance away from the forward roadway.
The Governor’s Committee says further:
- Looking away for two or more seconds will double the risk of a crash or near-crash.
- Driver inattention due to drowsiness will increase the risk of a crash or near-crash by at least four times.
- A driver who is engaged in a secondary task while driving also increases the risk factor.
- The following actions: talking, listening, or dialing a hand-held device; inserting or retrieving a compact disc; operating a PDA; reading, applying makeup or eating will increase the driver risk factor of a crash or near-crash by two to three times.
While discussions regarding distracted driving often focus on cellphone use and texting, the NHTSA notes that distracted driving includes a wide range of activities, such as eating, talking to passengers, or adjusting the radio or climate controls. “A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash,” the federal agency says.
In 2019, according to the NHTSA:
- 2,895 fatal crashes nationwide involved distraction (9% of all 33,244 fatal crashes)
- 3,142 people died in distraction-affected crashes (9% of 36,096 fatalities)
- 3,008 drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted (6% of 50,930). Some crashes involved multiple distracted drivers.
- 387 fatal crashes involved cellphone use as a distraction (13% of all distraction-affected fatal crashes). At least one driver was talking on, listening to, or engaged in some other cell phone activity at the time of the crash.
- 422 people died in fatal crashes involving cell-phone-related activities as distractions (13% of all deaths in distraction-affected crashes).
- 2,508 distraction-affected fatal car accidents did not involve cellphone use.
- 2,720 people died in distraction-affected car accidents that did not involve cellphone use.
New York Distracted Driving & Cellphone Usage Laws
It is illegal for a driver in New York to use a handheld cellphone or any other portable electronic device used for communication or computing while their motor vehicle is in motion, according to Vehicle & Traffic Law 1225(c) and VTL 1225(d).
Illegal activity includes holding the device and:
- talking on a phone
- writing, reading, sending or transmitting, accessing or retrieving, saving, or browsing or scrolling information, such as email, texts, or web pages
- viewing, taking, or transmitting images with or from a camera, including a phone’s camera
- playing games.
The law does not apply to hands-free cellphones.
If you are observed holding a phone to your ear or near your ear, the N.Y. law says you are presumed to be engaged in a phone call.
If you are operating a commercial motor vehicle (a truck or bus), it is illegal to use a phone or any other portable electronic device while stopped at a red light or by any other traffic signal.
The law does not apply if you are phoning or speaking to a:
- Police officer or police department
- Firefighters or fire department
- Ambulance company or dispatcher
- Hospital, physician’s office, or health clinic.
If you are ticketed, you can be fined $50 to $200 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense within 18 months, or up to $450 for a third or subsequent offense within 18 months. A surcharge of up to $93 may be added to any ticket.
You’ll also have 5 points added to your driver’s license for each offense if found guilty. If you receive 11 points within 18-months, your driver’s license may be suspended.
We recognize that distracted driving existed in New York long before the advent of cellphones and that no law can stop a negligent driver from taking his or her eyes off of the road because of distractions inside and outside of their vehicles. But the recklessness of purposefully engaging in secondary activities like using a phone or applying makeup while driving is obvious. Drivers who are distracted put other motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists at risk of serious injury and should be accountable when they cause harm.
The car accident lawyers at The Tadchiev Law Firm, P.C., serve as aggressive advocates for car accident victims in Queens, NY. We will work to maximize the compensation you receive if a distracted driver is responsible for the injuries you have suffered in a car accident.
For a free review of your legal options after a Queens car accident, call us today or reach out online. We don’t charge a fee unless we recover compensation for you.