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.
“Is it legal to text at a red light?”
“What are the NY texting and driving laws?”
The short answer is “no”. The new law prohibits using an electronic device while your car is “in motion” which includes texting at red lights. 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).