Where Do NY Drivers Get the Most Cell Phone and Texting Tickets?

By: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq.  Date Pulished: 10/18/19

Nobody wants a cell phone or texting ticket in New York State. The hefty fine and five-point penalty associated with VTL 1225 (c) and 1225 (d) is intended to make drivers leery of getting one. The best way to avoid one 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. Another option is to 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 predominately downstate. Four of the five boroughs of NYC individually gave out the most cell phone tickets, with Brooklyn top among them by a wide margin—its 45,583 cell phone and texting tickets was 30% greater than the next highest county, Queens. 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 number of cell phone and texting tickets.

County Total Cell and Texting Tickets (2017) Texting Tickets Cell Phone Tickets
BROOKLYN 45,583 25,457 20,126
QUEENS 34,858 19,329 15,529
MANHATTAN 34,736 21,113 13,623
BRONX 15,596 7,032 8,564
SUFFOLK 9,972 4,002 5,970
STATEN ISLAND 8,911 5,479 3,432
WESTCHESTER 8,266 3,787 4,479
NASSAU 7,554 3,329 4,225
ERIE 5,031 1,872 3,159
ALBANY 4,396 2,094 2,302

Even when taking the size of the population into account, New York City is still one of the worst places to talk on the phone or text while driving. However, several other upstate counties come into view for giving out a large amount of cell phone and texting tickets per capita. Schenectady tops the list, with 40.99 cell phone and texting tickets per 1,000 residents in 2017. This is almost double the No. 2 county, Manhattan, which handed out 20.87 tickets per 1,000 residents.

 However, Nassau and Suffolk counties drop to the bottom half of the list with 5.52 and 6.68 cell phone and texting tickets per 1,000 residents respectively.

County Population (2017) Total Cell and Texting Tickets (2017) Tickets Per Capita
SCHENECTADY 31,420 1,288 40.99
MANHATTAN 1,664,727 34,736 20.87
STATEN ISLAND 479,458 8,911 18.59
ULSTER 179,417 3,093 17.24
BROOKLYN 2,648,771 45,583 17.21
QUEENS 2,358,582 34,858 14.78
ALBANY 309,612 4,396 14.20
COLUMBIA 60,604 761 12.56
STEUBEN 96,281 1,147 11.91
WYOMING 40,493 452 11.16

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 took the top five spots. The 45,583 cell phone and texting tickets written in Brooklyn in 2017 made up 14.93% of tickets written by police in that county. Queens had the next greatest proportion, with 13.39% of all tickets being for cell phone or texting use last year.

County All Traffic Tickets 2017 Total Cell and Texting Tickets (2017) Proportion
BROOKLYN 305,248 45,583 14.93%
QUEENS 260,298 34,858 13.39%
STATEN ISLAND 84,230 8,911 10.58%
MANHATTAN 363,633 34,736 9.55%
BRONX 171,731 15,596 9.08%
ALBANY 74,895 4,396 5.87%
ULSTER 55,967 3,093 5.53%
RENSSELAER 34,289 1,762 5.14%
TOMPKINS 15,782 761 4.82%
WESTCHESTER 190,089 8,266 4.35%

 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. 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 plea bargains. As such, drivers who challenge their tickets either win a dismissal/acquittal or are convicted—no reductions or negotiations.

County Convicted on Same Cell Phone Violation
QUEENS 91.89%
BRONX 91.43%
STEUBEN 53.03%
TIOGA 48.94%
YATES 48.84%

 Drivers who want to 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 nearly 85% of cell phone and texting tickets written in 2017. Only 6.84% 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 (80.22%) with an even lower conviction rate (5.01%). That means drivers in Genesee actually have a better chance of winning a dismissal or being acquitted of cell phone tickets.

County Convicted on a Non-Cell Phone/Texting Violation Convicted on Same Violation
ERIE 84.71% 6.84%
RENSSELAER 81.95% 7.30%
NIAGARA 80.89% 13.85%
SCHENECTADY 80.81% 7.62%
GENESEE 80.22% 5.01%
LEWIS 78.71% 2.48%
SARATOGA 77.88% 6.49%
FULTON 77.65% 12.85%
ULSTER 76.68% 10.78%
WARREN 76.52% 6.65%

Of course, even a plea bargain 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 8.58% of all NY cell phone and texting tickets were dismissed or acquitted in 2017, and the majority of counties had dismissal/acquittal rates in the single digits.

 However, a handful had rates much higher than that. For example, Orleans County dismissed or acquitted drivers of 65.43% of all cell phone and texting charges in 2017. Livingston was not far behind, with drivers getting off Scot free in 47.32% of cases.

County Cell Phone & Texting Tickets Dismissed/Acquitted in 2017
ORLEANS 65.43%
OTSEGO 38.46%
BROOME 38.32%
TIOGA 18.44%
MONROE 17.54%
PUTNAM 16.48%

Cell Phone and Texting Tickets on the Decline?

 While cell phone use has become increasingly ubiquitous over the past 10 years, tickets for cell phone violations in New York have declined over the same time period. In 2017, police wrote 104,684 tickets for VTL 1225 (c). This is a 69% decline over 2009, in which 342,609 such tickets were issued.

Year NYS Cell Phone Tickets NYS Texting Tickets
2009 342,609 181
2010 332,039 3,248
2011 248,239 9,003
2012 216,980 30,241
2013 207,741 55,458
2014 164,008 75,617
2015 132,125 84,803
2016 113,370 92,363
2017 104,786 112,529

At the same time, the proportion of overall NYS traffic tickets that are for cell phone use has declined as well, going from 8.4% of tickets to just 2.8%. Does that mean cell phone tickets will soon become a rarity? It’s possible, especially since tickets for texting while driving are on the rise. The number of texting tickets issued to NYS drivers surpassed cell phone tickets for the first time in 2017. However, the total number of cell phone and texting tickets are still declining overall, and the two together still represented just 5.8% of all tickets handed out statewide last year. To learn about other traffic ticket and traffic accident trends in New York, visit our data pages