Since New York’s distracted driver went into effect earlier this month, I have been asked multiple times about whether a driver can read or write a text (or email) while stopped at a red light.
The short answer is “no”. The new law prohibits using an electronic device while your car is “in motion”. No court has interpreted this phrase yet, but I expect that most will conclude that “in motion” includes those times when the motorist is behind the wheel with the car in “drive”. Therefore, stopping at a light will be construed as being “in motion”.
The DWI laws in New York are enforced against anyone “operating” a motor vehicle. Operating has been defined to include sitting behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition. While “operating” and “in motion” may have different meanings, both clearly cover a motorist stopped at a red light. Indeed, arguably a car in “park” with its engine running is also “in motion”.
To avoid a texting and driving ticket, I highly recommend pulling over to a legal parking spot if you need to read or write a message (or otherwise use an electronic device).