With today’s younger generation of drivers accustomed to instantaneous communication, New York has, in recent years, increased enforcement and pushed for tougher anti-texting while driving laws in order to discourage novice drivers prone to the distracted driving habit from taking their eyes off the road to text on their phones.
Now, Governor Cuomo is proposing to suspend licenses for one year of people under 21 caught texting behind the wheel, doubling the six-month license suspension currently in place for the violation. If approved, New York will have the toughest texting while driving penalties in the nation.
New York first banned texting while driving in 2009. However, the initial ban permitted a ticket for texting to be issued only as a secondary offense; the driver had to be pulled over for a different driving infraction before a ticket for texting could also be issued. In 2011, the law was altered so that texting while driving now constitutes a primary offense. In recent years, New York has twice increased the number of points a driver will receive on his or her license for texting while driving, first from two to three, and last year, from three to five points.
As laws have grown tougher, enforcement measures have also been stepped up. State aid available for distracted driving initiatives has been used to set aside a fleet of state police for the sole purpose of identifying distracted drivers, as well as to put police officers in tall unmarked SUVs that give them a better vantage point from which to peer down on drivers behind the wheel. Meanwhile, texting zones along the state thruway where drivers can safely stop and text leave drivers without any excuse for texting while operating a motor vehicle.
As a result, the number of tickets for texting while driving has soared in the past few years, with tickets for texting in New York up by 82 percent, and 89 percent outside New York City. Whereas only 30,000 tickets for texting were handed out in New York State in 2012, around 55,000 such tickets were given in 2013. For 26 of New York’s 62 counties, that means that the number of tickets for texting has more than doubled in the past year.
In contrast, as texting tickets have increased, tickets for talking on a cell phone, a more easily observable driving violation, have actually decreased in each of the past five years. Though tickets for cell phone use still greatly outnumber tickets issued for texting, police last year handed out only 207,000 tickets for using a cell phone while driving, compared with 217,000 such tickets issued in 2012, and 342,000 tickets issued in 2009.
While today’s drivers are more likely to get handed a ticket for texting, they are also more likely to get convicted of the violation once ticketed. In the past few years, the conviction rate for texting tickets has risen from 44 percent to 66 percent in 2012. The conviction rate for cell phone use while driving is even higher, at 73 percent.