New York Drivers Face Increased Enforcement of Texting While Driving Laws



New York Drivers Face Increased Enforcement of Texting While Driving Laws

By now, people are aware of New York City’s new tougher policies over traffic enforcement. While lauded in many corners--appropriately when its goal is saving lives--some policies run the risk of overly aggressive and discretionary enforcement. With the risk of hundreds of dollars in fines and point penalties on licenses, drivers need to be aware of the laws and ensure that they are being treated fairly and appropriately.

The New York Texting and Driving Law

Enacted in 2009, New York’s first texting and driving law was considered a secondary offense--meaning a driver only could be cited for texting if they were pulled over for another reason, but not for texting itself. In 2011, however, the Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225(d) was amended to make texting and driving a primary defense--meaning an officer can pull over a driver if they observe a driver using an electronic device.

The current 2011 law has a presumption of use if a driver is observed with some kind of electronic device in their hand. An officer does not have to know the driver is using the device. The fact that the device is seen in the driver’s hand is reason enough to pull over a driver and issue a citation without question.

The definition of an electronic hand-held electronic device is fairly broad and includes cell phones, MP3 players, game device, or any device with mobile data access. Most recently, in June 2017, The Third Department Appellate Division further refined the definition “to encompass any portable electronic device that diverts a driver’s attention away from the road and prevents the full use of a driver’s hands.” It remains to be seen how subjective this interpretation will be.

The penalty for violating the texting while driving or using any electronic device laws is a fine up to a $200 fine for the first offense plus 5 points on a license. The per violation fine escalates for every citation after the first--up to $450. An additional 5 points are imposed for  each violation. In addition, surcharges apply up to $93 per violation. These fines and penalties can have a significant impact on drivers and their livelihoods that a traffic lawyer in NYC and elsewhere throughout the state can advise drivers about.

For drivers, this definition means any defense against a ticket must go to court. Back in 2011, when the original law was passed, Governor Cuomo called the way the law is written “a rebuttable presumption,” meaning a ticket can be dismissed under certain circumstances. A New York traffic attorney can advise on the viability of a defense or help reduce the ticket to a lower violation. Given the broad interpretation of “use,” it might be wise to fight a ticket, particularly if a question exists over what constitutes a distraction.

Stepped Up Texting Enforcement Under NYC’s Vision Zero

With the introduction of NYC’s Vision Zero initiatives, drivers have experienced a surge in enforcement of traffic violations of all kinds. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of tickets written for texting while driving increased an astonishing 840%. By May 2017, the number of tickets for texting increased another 49% from the previous year--from 11,736 to 17,508. With such a significant increase, it’s no surprise that questions of aggressive enforcement are being raised.

This fall, NYC Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to increase the city’s Enforcement Task Force from 40 to 80 staff members, as well as increase the number of uniformed police officers by 110. While this announcement was made in conjunction with a different Vision Zero initiative, these officers will also be enforcing all traffic laws, including the texting while driving or using an electronic device rules. Given the steep increase in ticketing the city has seen in just one year, more drivers than ever will be subjected to citations.

New York Traffic Attorneys Can Advise Drivers of Their Rights

Traffic attorneys experienced in New York traffic law can provide significant benefits when contesting a ticket. When drivers self-represent, they are held to the same rules and procedures as lawyers, but might not know the necessary things to consider and watch for during a hearing or trial. A traffic hearing might seem simple, but often turn on technical details or precedents that average driver has no way to be aware of.

With the presumption of use, it falls to the driver to “prove” they were not using their devices. Between aggressive enforcement and a court system that defers to officers over drivers, defending against a violation often falls on technical details or sophisticated knowledge of the law.

Paying A Traffic Ticket Can Have High Financial Consequences

For many drivers, simply paying the fine seems to be the easiest solution. The issue with pleading guilty to using an electronic device, however, has long-term consequences.

Each texting or electronic use violation comes with 5 points on a license. A license holder with 6 points in an 18-month period--just one more point than a single texting violation--is assessed an additional fee called the Driver Responsibility Assessment Fee. That fee is a minimum of $100 per year for three years, plus another $25 per point over 6 points per year. It can add up quickly.

These points stay on the license for several years and if they accumulate to a certain point, a license can be suspended or revoked. Insurance carriers also consider driving records when assessing premiums, meaning points can cause insurance costs to skyrocket for years.

Drivers Need To Know Their Options

That “simple” one-time fine payment can lead to thousands of dollars in fees, fines, and insurance spikes in a short time. A single consultation with a New York traffic attorney can provide valuable information on how to fight a texting ticket, reduce fines or points on a violation, or even have a ticket dismissed.


With our 60 years of combined experience working with the New York Legal System and Most NY Traffic Courts,  our team of local traffic lawyers will defend your tickets saving you money and time.  We will aggressively contest your violations and seek to reduce your sentence, lower fines, and avoid getting points in order to prevent suspension or revocation of your license as well as increased insurance premiums.

Michael Beer