The New York Legislature recently amended Vehicle and Traffic Law (“VTL”) Sections 1225-c and 1225-d to arguably permit an motorist to use a cell phone or electronic device while temporarily stopped in traffic or at a stop light. Specifically, VTL 1225-c(2)(a) now reads (VTL 1225-d has similar language)
Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person shall operate a motor vehicle upon a public highway while using a mobile telephone to engage in a call while such vehicle is in motion; provided, however, that no person shall operate a commercial motor vehicle while using a mobile telephone to engage in a call on a public highway including while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays. Provided further, however, that a person shall not be deemed to be operating a commercial motor vehicle while using a mobile telephone to engage in a call on a public highway when such vehicle is stopped at the side of, or off, a public highway in a location where such vehicle is not otherwise prohibited from stopping by law, rule, regulation or any lawful order or direction of a police officer.
The bold language above makes it unlawful for the driver of a commercial vehicle to use a mobile device while stopped in traffic or at a red light. By inference, then, such activity is allowed for drivers of other vehicles who are stopped. Therefore, you arguably can use your phone or electronic device while, for example, stopped at a red light.
However, BEFORE you grab your iPhone, MY ADVICE IS NOT TO DO SO. Roughly forty percent of the tickets for which clients hire us these days are for cell phone and electronic devices violations, and NYPD police officer routinely issue them to stopped drivers. Stated differently, the above-quoted language notwithstanding, motorists are still regularly receiving such tickets for using their devices even while stopped. At the hearing, the officer will always say the vehicle was in motion because he or she will usually testify by script (a memorized dialogue or recorded fill-in-the-blank document). Motorists will come to court and testify that they were stopped at a light when they “used” their device but such testimony amounts simply to denying the officer’s testimony. In such circumstances, the TVB judge will ALWAYS take the word of the officer and pronounce GUILTY! Welcome to the TVB!
Bottom line: You are asking for trouble if you pick up your phone while stopped. I know it is not fair but you are much better off without the ticket than being “right”. Further, it is VERY hard to win in the Traffic Violations Bureau and the chances of winning even if you are “right” are unreasonably low. Hence, I strongly recommend that you to continue to refrain from touching, holding or using your devices while your transmission is in drive.