What Are the Penalties for Cell Phone/Texting Tickets in New York?
Talking on a cell phone without a hand’s free device or any other use of an electronic device while driving in New York City is punishable by heavy fines and points. A NYC cell phone/texting ticket comes with a fine of $50-$200 for a first offense, $50-$250 for a second offense, and $50-$400 for a third offense. In addition, each conviction means 5 points on one’s license, making it one of the highest-point traffic offenses.
In addition to the fine, a driver convicted of a cell phone or texting violation in NYC will be obligated to pay an $88 state surcharge. The high point value also means a person can easily suffer additional penalties, such as a being required to pay a DRA (Driver Reasonability Assessment) or even be at risk of a suspended license.
For more on the penalties associated with cell phone and texting tickets, see our main page on cell phone and texting violations.
Cell Phone/Texting Tickets Cover More Than Phones
New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1225(d) makes it illegal to do more than simply text with one’s cell phone—in fact, it covers far more than just phones. Using a GPS device, a tablet or computer, digital camera or any other electronic device while operating a vehicle can result in a ticket.
What Makes NYC Cell phone/Texting Tickets Different?
Cell phone or texting tickets issued in any of the five boroughs of NYC present a bigger challenge to drivers than those issued almost anywhere else in the state. In NYC, drivers must take up their case with the Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB), which is part of the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles. The TVB is much more strict than the typical traffic court, and drivers are far more likely to be convicted—citywide, more than 93% of cell phone and texting tickets ended in a conviction. Here are some of the reasons the TVB makes a cell phone/texting tickets more difficult:
- No plea bargains. Drivers cannot negotiate tickets down to lesser charges. Drivers who wish to fight their NYC cell phone/texting tickets must go to court and get it dismissed or acquitted—not an easy task.
- Clear and convincing evidence. Most other traffic courts require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the driver committed the violation. However, TVB judges need only “clear and convincing evidence.”
- Admissibility of hearsay. Hearsay—defined as oral or written statements made by someone other than the testifying witness—are admissible. In other words, if an officer repeats a claim about the defendant made by another officer, that would be considered hearsay. It would be inadmissible in most traffic courts, but not the TVB.
How to Plead Not Guilty to NYC Cell Phone/Texting Ticket
Instructions for how to enter a not guilty plea are on the back of every NYC traffic ticket. Drivers have two options:
- Plead online. Go to www.dmv.ny.gov/eplead.htm. Drivers will need the ticket number located in the upper left-hand side of the ticket, as well as their driver’s license number. If the information is entered correctly, the ticket information will show on the website. The driver can then choose to enter a plea of not guilty.
- Plead by mail. Drivers can check the not guilty box on the back of the ticket, then fill out the necessary fields, sign and date it. The ticket will indicate the address to send the ticket to. Be sure to make a scan or photocopy of the front and back for recordkeeping purposes.
How to Plead Guilty and Pay a NYC Ticket (Not Recommended)
Drivers should think carefully before choosing to plead guilty and paying the ticket. In addition shelling out for the hefty fine and surcharge, those who pay the ticket will suffer the consequence of points; this includes potentially paying a DRA and risking a suspended license (the 5 points are halfway to a suspension). Paying the ticket also means a likely increase in auto insurance rates.
Another reason to reconsider paying the ticket: If it was issued in association with a traffic accident, pleading guilty could make one liable for an accident-related lawsuit.
As mentioned above, a driver can plead guilty and pay online or by mail following the directions on the back of the ticket. If paying online, drivers will need to enter a credit card number. If paying by mail, drivers can enter a credit card number or send a check or money order (do not send cash).
[plea info] Caption: Check the appropriate box to enter one’s plea and complete the information as required.
How to Postpone the Court Date
One of the key benefits of hiring an attorney to fight one’s NYC cell phone/texting ticket is that the driver will not have to appear in court; the attorney can appear in his/her stead. This would eliminate the vast majority of reasons why a person might need reschedule a court date.
However, those who opt to fight the ticket on their own but find themselves needing to postpone the court date can do so either by mail, in person, or on the phone.
To request a postponement by mail, send a letter that includes the driver and ticket information along with the reason for the postponement to the TVB Albany location noted on the back of the ticket (same as the one used to plea by mail). This must be sent no less than 10 days before the date of the hearing.
A person may also make the request in person at any TVB location. To postpone by phone, call (718)-488-5710. Both in person and telephone postponements must be made at least one day before the hearing. A person can request a second postponement for “good cause,” but this must be done in person and is subject to approval by the judge. A third or subsequent postponement is extraordinarily unlikely. Also keep in mind that “good cause” is highly subjective and each judge will have his/her own interpretation of what qualifies.
NOTE: Those who hire an attorney will not likely need to postpone their court date as the attorney can very often appear without the driver. If a postponement is needed, the attorney can handle and is more likely to get it approved.
Tips for Fighting a NYC Cell Phone/Texting Ticket On Your Own
One’s best chance of beating a NYC cell phone or texting ticket lies with hiring an experienced traffic ticket attorney. While the overall conviction rates at the TVB are over 95%, many skilled attorneys have success rates of 50% or better as a result of their years of trial experience and well-honed trial tactics. Those who cannot afford an attorney can take their chances by following these steps:
- Enter a plea. Drivers must respond to a NYC cell phone or texting ticket within 15 of the traffic stop. Use the guide above to enter a not guilty plea. Keep in mind that those who fail to respond are in danger of being convicted by default and having their license suspended.
- Show up to court. Those who plead not guilty will receive a hearing notice in the mail with the date and location of the TVB hearing. Drivers must be on time and should dress appropriately. In addition, it is good practice to be polite and respectful to everyone, especially the judge.
- Present evidence. At the TVB, the officer provides testimony first. He/she will explain why the driver was charged with a cell phone or texting violation. The driver will then be able to offer testimony, ask questions, submit evidence (e.g. dash cam footage) or call upon a witness. The judge is likely to ask the driver (or any witness) questions to fully understand the testimony. NOTE: This is where an attorney can make the biggest difference; one careless question or response can result in a conviction.
- Receive a ruling. The judge will consider all evidence and testimony given along with the wording of the statute before entering a judgement. If the evidence is not clear and convincing, the driver is found not guilty. Otherwise the driver is found guilty and a fine and points are assessed.
A driver who wishes to appeal a NYC cell phone or texting ticket conviction can do so online or by mail. However, the vast majority of convictions are upheld on appeal so drivers should absolutely discuss the situation with an attorney before doing so.
Why Hire a NYC Cell Phone/Texting Ticket Attorney?
Despite how difficult the TVB can be, it is possible to beat a NYC cell phone or texting ticket by hiring a skilled attorney. An experienced NYC traffic ticket attorney will be familiar with the judges at the various TVB locations. As such, he/she will have a positive rapport with many of them, which provides an edge in presenting the case. Furthermore, many an innocent driver has gone to the TVB and accidentally admitted guilt or volunteered enough information to justify a conviction—but an attorney will not do this. Traffic ticket attorneys will know exactly how to present the facts of the case without revealing anything that can be used against the client. Perhaps the most compelling reason to hire an attorney is that he/she can save the driver a trip to court. New York State allows an attorney appear in court in lieu of the driver in most cases.
Data on NYC Cell Phone/Texting Tickets
Cell phone and texting tickets increased sharply from 2016 to 2017, according to data from the NYS DMV. The number of citations for the two violation rose 13.2%, from 125,137 to 141,701. Overall, cell phone and texting tickets have declined by more than 37% since 2009, the oldest data available from the DMV. Cell phone and texting tickets have been on the decline in years, despite a noticeable increase in accidents in which the violations are a factor.
NYC was home to a disproportionate amount of cell phone and texting tickets—more than 65% of all cell phone and texting tickets happened in the five boroughs. By comparison, just 19% of all speeding tickets were issued in the city.
The Bronx Cell Phone/Texting Tickets
Last year, cell phone and texting tickets increased most dramatically in the Bronx. In 2017, 15,596 such tickets were issued, a nearly 27% jump over 2016. Drivers ticketed in the Bronx were more successful in beating their tickets, even if barely so; 8.6% were able to get their cell phone or texting charges dismissed, slightly above the NYC average of 6.7%. Read more about traffic tickets in the Bronx.
Brooklyn Cell Phone/Texting Tickets
Of the five boroughs, police in Brooklyn ticketed the most drivers for cell phone or texting violations: More than 45,000 in 2017. This is not a new trend. Brooklyn has been the source of the most cell phone and texting tickets since at least 2009. In general, police in Brooklyn issued the third-most traffic tickets of any NYS county in 2017 (305,248). Even worse, in contrast to the Bronx and Manhattan, drivers in Brooklyn were the least successful in beating their cell phone/texting tickets, as nearly 97% resulted in a conviction. Read more about traffic tickets in Brooklyn.
Manhattan Cell Phone/Texting Tickets
Of the five boroughs, Manhattan saw the smallest increase in cell phone and texting tickets in 2017. Police issued 34,736 such tickets, a 7.1% uptick over 2016. The small rise resulted in the first time in nine years that neighboring Queens issued more. Despite this increase, Manhattan has seen a 46% decline in total cell phone/texting tickets since 2009, notably more than the other four boroughs. Out of all of NYC, Manhattan had the fewest number of female drivers ticketed for cell phone or texting violations; just 22.1% of tickets when to women. Read more about traffic tickets in Manhattan.
Queen Cell Phone/Texting Tickets
More than 34,800 drivers were cited for cell phone and texting violations in Queens in 2017. Despite the number of tickets rising just 11.5% over 2016, the borough still overtook Manhattan to become the second-most source of such tickets in the city. Nearly 92% were convicted. Read more about traffic tickets in Queens.
Staten Island Cell Phone/Texting Tickets
As the least populous borough, it's not surprising that Staten Island saw the least amount of cell phone and texting tickets in 2017. However, the 8,911 tickets still represent a 15.7% increase. Moreover, Staten Island saw the smallest decrease in such tickets over the past nine years (just 10.1%). Staten Island is also an outlier in that it ticketed an unusually high proportion of both female drivers (40.1%) and drivers under 21 (6.5%) in 2017. Staten Island’s TVB location is also the second-toughest in the city, convicting 96.1% of drivers charged with cell phone and texting violations. Read more about traffic tickets in Staten Island.
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