Brooklyn & Manhattan Worst Place to Use Cell Phones While Driving

By: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq.  Published: 11/4/19

Nobody wants a cell phone or texting ticket in New York State. The hefty fines and five-point penalty associated with VTL 1225-c (cell phone use) and 1225-d (electronic device or texting) are intended to make drivers more cautious. The best way to avoid a cell phone ticket is to either purchase a hands-free headset (for phone calls) or pull over to the side of the road to handle a call or text. One can also be mindful of when and where police are most likely to ticket a driver for using a cell phone.

The counties that give out the greatest amount of cell phone tickets are predominantely downstate. Four of the five boroughs of NYC gave out the most cell phone tickets, with Brooklyn top among them with 37,202 cell phone and texting tickets. This is 16% greater than the next highest county, neighboring Manhattan. Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties also ranked high, along with Westchester. Among upstate counties, only Erie and Albany made the top 10 list for the number of cell phone and texting tickets last year.

NY CountyCell and Texting Tickets Combined (2018)Cell Phone TicketsTexting Tickets
BROOKLYN37,20214,72322,479
MANHATTAN32,10611,22720,879
QUEENS31,79612,38119,415
BRONX16,8118,5548,257
SUFFOLK9,7595,2204,539
STATEN ISLAND8,8012,9185,883
WESTCHESTER7,1283,3923,736
NASSAU6,8373,5043,333
ERIE4,6942,8091,885
ALBANY3,9361,8602,076

Even when taking the amount of vehicle traffic into account, New York City is still one of the worst places to talk on the phone or text while driving, with each of the five boroughs securing one of the top 5 spots. However, several other upstate counties come into view for giving out a large amount of cell phone and texting tickets per vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Manhattan tops the list, with 3.62 cell phone and texting tickets per 1,000 VMT in 2018

 By contrast, Nassau and Suffolk counties drop to No. 22 and 23 spots respectively, with approximately 0.27 cell phone and texting tickets per 1,000 VMT each.

NY CountyCell and Texting Tickets Combined (2018)Vehicle Miles TraveledVMT Proportion
MANHATTAN32,1068,860,0003.62
BROOKLYN37,20213,393,0002.78
BRONX16,8119,211,0001.83
QUEENS31,79620,289,0001.57
STATEN ISLAND8,8015,856,0001.5
ULSTER2,6955,871,0000.46
TOMPKINS8861,967,0000.45
WYOMING412920,0000.45
ALBANY3,9369,076,0000.43

When looking at the proportion of overall traffic tickets that are for cell phone and texting violations, once again New York City seems to be the place to avoid. All five boroughs again took the top five spots. The 37,202 cell phone and texting tickets written in Brooklyn in 2018 made up 13.62% of tickets written by police in that county. Queens had the next greatest proportion, with 12.1% of all tickets being for cell phone or texting use last year.

NY CountyCell and Texting Tickets Combined (2018)Total Traffic TicketsPercent of Cell Phone & Texting Tickets
BROOKLYN37,202272,57913.60%
QUEENS31,796262,72712.10%
BRONX16,811168,58910.00%
STATEN ISLAND8,80190,2489.80%
MANHATTAN32,106366,2808.80%
TOMPKINS88615,5185.70%
ALBANY3,93671,7475.50%
ONTARIO1,16022,3605.20%
ULSTER2,69555,2524.90%
RENSSELAER1,52832,8804.60%

NY Counties with the Highest Conviction Rates

By now the message should be clear: New York City is the worst place in the state to commit a cell phone or texting violation. This is absolutely true when taking conviction rates into account. In 2017, all five boroughs had conviction rates of more than 91% for cell phone and texting tickets in their respective jurisdictions. In Manhattan, 97% of cell phone and texting tickets resulting in a conviction. Of course, part of the reason for that is NYC does not have individual traffic courts, and instead uses the Traffic Violations Bureau (which is part of the DMV), which does not allow for tickets to be negotiated to a lesser offense. As such, drivers who challenge their tickets either win a dismissal/acquittal or are convicted.

NY CountyPercent of Drivers Convicted of Cell Phone/Texting Tickets (2018)
STATEN ISLAND97.00%
BROOKLYN93.40%
MANHATTAN93.30%
QUEENS92.10%
BRONX91.40%
ST. LAWRENCE59.40%
HAMILTON57.10%
YATES52.60%
TIOGA50.00%
STEUBEN46.20%

Drivers who are confident in their ability to negotiate their ticket down to a lesser charge (or, better, who have a great attorney to do it for them) can drive with confidence in Erie County, which allowed drivers to plea down (i.e. negotiate) nearly 85% of cell phone and texting tickets written in 2018. Only 8.8% of drivers in Erie were convicted on the same charge issued by police that year. Nearby Genesee County had a similarly high plea bargain rate (83.5%) but with a slightly higher conviction rate (14%).

NY CountyPercent of Drivers Convicted of Different Offense
ERIE84.70%
GENESEE83.50%
FULTON82.00%
WARREN79.90%
ROCKLAND79.70%
SCHENECTADY79.70%
NIAGARA79.00%
HERKIMER78.40%
SARATOGA78.10%
RENSSELAER78.00%


However, a handful had rates much higher than that. For example, Orleans County dismissed or acquitted drivers in 64.4% of all cell phone and texting cases in 2018. Livingston was not far behind, with drivers getting off Scot free 59.1% of the time.Of course, even a negotiation or reduction usually means paying a fine and can sometimes mean getting points too (albeit likely less than the five points associated with a cell phone ticket). The only way to avoid any kind of points or fine completely is to have one’s ticket dismissed or be acquitted by a judge. An average of just 9% of all NY cell phone tickets and 8.5% of all texting tickets were dismissed or acquitted in 2018, and the majority of counties had dismissal/acquittal rates in the single digits.

NY CountyPercent of Cell Phone/Texting Tickets Dismissed 2018
ORLEANS64.40%
LIVINGSTON59.10%
TIOGA39.60%
BROOME37.90%
OTSEGO34.90%
ALLEGANY34.70%
SULLIVAN19.40%
CHENANGO19.20%
ONONDAGA18.90%
GREENE17.30%

Cell Phone and Texting Tickets on the Decline?

While cell phone use has been increasing over the past 10 years, tickets for cell phone violations in New York have declined over the same time period. In 2018, police wrote 86,343,684 tickets for VTL 1225 (c). This is an 18% decline over 2017 and a 75% decline over 2009, in which 342,609 such tickets were issued. Texting tickets, which had been rising aggressively between 2009 and 2017, edged down for the first time in 2018, from 112,472 to 111,250 (1.1%). 

YearCell Phone TicketsTexting Tickets
2009342,609181
2010332,0393,248
2011248,2399,003
2012216,98030,241
2013207,74155,458
2014164,00875,617
2015132,12584,803
2016113,37092,363
2017104,684112,472
201886,343111,250

At the same time, the proportion of overall NYS traffic tickets that are for cell phone and texting violations use has declined as well, going from 8.4% of tickets to just 5.4%. Does that mean cell phone and texting tickets will soon become a rarity? It’s unlikely, especially as accidents involving cell phones or other electronics usage continue to rise. To learn about other traffic ticket and traffic accident trends in New York, visit our data pages

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