Can I Check My Cell Phone While Stopped At A Red Light in NY?

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).

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • I was at a intersection waiting for the light to turn green to make a left hand turn. my step father that I live with is on hospice and I thougth they texted so I picked up the phone looked at it put it down and still waiting for the light I looked over and a police man was next to me. the light turned green and I turned and he pulled me over. can I fight that in court

    • Matthew Weiss
      January 29, 2019 3:34 pm

      Bonnie L Marr,

      You can fight it but it’s going to be tough to beat. In NY, you can use an electronic device while driving and you do not describe an emergency that would justify violating the law.

      Matthew Weiss

      • Inquiring minds want to know
        April 24, 2019 12:37 pm

        The radio in my vehicle is an electronic device. Can I play with the radio while the vehicle is in motion?

        • Matthew Weiss
          April 24, 2019 3:19 pm

          Inquiring minds want to know,

          Yes, the law only applies to electronic devices which you hold in your hand while in motion.

          Matthew Weiss


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