Toughest Driving While Distracted (DWD) Law In The Country Coming To New York?

For two years, I have written multiple posts about the dangers of texting and other distractions while driving urging New York’s dysfunctional legislature to effectively address the problem. The dangers of a driver reading a text message or playing Angry Birds is obvious. Well, this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo got involved to finally end the ineptitude of our legislature and he’s not fooling around.

If enacted, Cuomo’s sweeping new law will heavily crack down on drivers caught using ANY portable electronic device including Blackberrys, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, Nintendo DSs, or talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. GPS navigation units and MP3 players not held in a conspicuous manner would be exempt.

In an un-precedented move, the proposed DWD law would require that violators take a Driver Safety Class. This would be the first time that a New York traffic ticket conviction would result in such a mandatory requirement. Additionally, the bill would fix the texting and driving law loophole (which I was the first to identify in 2009) by making a violation a primary offense. Finally, it would increase the points for this offense from 2 to 3, and impose a $150 fine for a first offense. If passed, this would be one of the toughest DWD laws in the country.

“Every day, countless drivers, particularly teenagers and young adults, drive with their eyes on a screen rather than the road,” Governor Cuomo said. “Distracted driving is nothing less than a lethal activity for the driver themselves, other drivers on the road, and pedestrians. We need to impose a true deterrent *** to keep our roads and citizens safe.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 16% of fatal accidents in 2009 were due to distracted driving and 20% of people injured during a crash were involved in a crash where distracted driving was reported. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who were texting were 23 times more at risk of a crash or near crash, while another study compared reaction times when a driver was texting to when a driver was intoxicated, and found that the reaction time while texting was much slower. In New York City, DWD accounts for 25,000 of the more than 125,000 accidents each year, and 60 deaths annually along with 600 serious injuries.

A National Insurance study estimated 20% of all drivers, and 66% of drivers aged 18 to 24, are sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel, leaving our young drivers most vulnerable. Several fatal accidents in this state have highlighted this fact including the September 2010 accident in which a 19-year old replying to a text struck and killed a father of 3 driving a scooter, and the 2007 accident in which 7 teens were killed in suburban Rochester.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • A local ham radio operator was recently ticketed under VTL 1225 for ”conspicuously holding” a portable ham radio at a stop light. He tried to fight this and was convicted, fined, and points were applied. No Lawyer was consulted as he believed himself innocent. We belong to a Long Island Ham Radio Club.
    In reading your information, I found an item that a ”CB” radi0 is not considered
    subject under this law. Nowhere was ”Ham Radio” to be found.
    I now understand ”moving” includes a stop light, and I also believe, that as the Radio
    was a portable device and was being held, he was cited and the judge ruled against him. I assume any radio in a fixed mount within the automobile is legal.
    Can you comment on the use of a hand-held microphone attached to a fixed
    radio via a coil cord. Someone asked my opinion… Would its use be considered a violation? (Another-words, talking on the radio using a microphone and not a hands-free device.) I will share your response.
    I hope you are aware of the many public services offered by Ham Radio.
    Several States have exempted Ham Radios from such litigation.
    As a ham, I would like to thank you for your benefit to the public through your blog. Interesting stuff. Best Wishes. (We often say 73, have a nice day.)

    • John,

      Thanks for your kind remarks and interesting question.

      VTL Section 1225-d(2)(A) defines a “Portable electronic device” as “any hand-held mobile telephone, *** personal digital assistant (PDA), handheld device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device.” As I read this definition, ham radios are not included within the law’s ambit. Therefore, your friend should appeal his conviction (assuming he made this argument to the trial court).

      Matthew Weiss


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