No Trick/No Treat – Cell Phone Crack-Down in New York

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New York’s Legislature has been busy this year. So, as trick-or-treaters make last-minute adjustments to their costumes (and November, with a courtly gesture, murmurs “enter freely and of your own will”), younger drivers, in particular, may notice the cold wind of regulation whipping round their ankles.

As of Saturday, November 1, 2014, at 12:00 AM (the witching hour), penalties for drivers caught talking on a cell phone or texting will be increased. The potential fines for everybody will go up by $50: the maximum fine for a first offense will be $200. The number of points for everybody (five – we repeat – five!) will remain the same.

Younger drivers – ‘probationary and junior drivers with a Class DJ or MJ driver license or learner permit’ face greatly enhanced administrative sanctions under the new scheme. Specifically, for those drivers, a first offense involving cell phone use or texting while driving will result in an automatic 120-day suspension.

And if one of those drivers should get convicted again within six months of the end of such a suspension, his or her license will be revoked for at least a year.

Note that we say ‘at least’ a year. If your license is ‘suspended’ it’s essentially asleep. A suspension ends automatically. In this case, it ends when the 120 days have passed and a suspension-lift fee has been paid. A revocation doesn’t end automatically. Once your license is revoked, you have no license. You must reapply for a license – and, of course, you might not get it. We’re linking here to a DMV webpage noting the enhanced penalties we’ve been discussing.

Laws governing the use of electronic gadgets while driving have been tightening up for some time. In 2011, as we’ve had occasion to mention, the use of hand-held devices became a two-point moving violation. In 2013, we noted in our Vehicle and Traffic Round Up, two points became the current five, and younger drivers were to receive an automatic suspension.

Distracted driving is, of course, a serious problem, and it seems to be getting worse as time goes on. A federal informational website, distraction.gov, states that in 2012 “an estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, . . . a nine percent increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured in 2011.” That site also suggests that – although there are many ways to be distracted – “because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.”

In making things yet worse for the digitally-minded driver, New York isn’t alone; this is a nationwide trend. According to the Center for Disease Control’s website “[m]any states are enacting laws–such as banning texting while driving, or using graduated driver licensing systems for teen drivers–to help raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and to keep it from occurring.” However, as the CDC also points out, “the effectiveness of cell phone and texting laws on decreasing distracted driving-related crashes requires further study.”

Anyway, we wish you a happy Halloween. But don’t go as a texting teen driver.