Distracted Driving: A Serious Problem in New York

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 9 people die every day throughout the United States in the more than 1,000 car accidents that involve distracted drivers. In 2018 alone, 2,841 people were reportedly killed in distracted driving accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In New York State, the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee reports distracted driving as the number one contributing factor for motor vehicle accidents.

Distracted driving is a national problem. The NHTSA defines distracted driving as "any activity that diverts a driver's attention away from driving." While motorists may not be conscious of it, even the simplest tasks can take their attention away from the road, increasing the risk of an accident that can harm them and those around them.

Distracting actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Talking or texting on a phone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to other passengers
  • Adjusting the car's radio
  • Handling a navigation system

An additional notable contributing factor to driver inattention is drowsiness. When a motorist operates a vehicle while drowsy, they increase their risk of crashing by at least 4 times, according to the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee. All drivers should be mentally and physically present before operating a vehicle.

In recent years, cell phone use, specifically texting, has been the most common form of distraction among motorists. Drivers under 20 years of age statistically pose the greatest risk, with 9% of all teen motor vehicle accident deaths being linked to distracted driving in 2017, according to the CDC. In a survey among high school students, a shocking 42% of students admitted to texting while driving in the previous month. This figure is staggering and obviously poses great danger to innocent pedestrians and motorists.

Text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention. Doing so while driving severely affects one's ability to concentrate on the road. Since mobile phones first became popular, the New York State government has worked to keep up with the developing issues related to technology use while driving, becoming the first state to prohibit cell phone use while driving in 2001. As distracted driving continues to be a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents, state governments continue to implement efforts to improve road safety.

New York Law: Cell Phones and Distracted Driving

Under New York State law, texting while driving is considered a primary offense, meaning that a police officer does not need any other reason to pull you over. The majority of states in the U.S. consider texting while driving a primary offense. In states where it counts as a secondary offense, an officer would first need to pull the driver over for a primary offense, such as speeding, before they can add on the texting violation.

The following two sections in New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) discuss the use of electronics while driving:

  • VTL 1225(c): Use of mobile telephones.
  • VTL 1225(d): Use of portable electronic devices.

Generally speaking, VTL 1225(c) prohibits drivers from engaging in phone calls while operating a vehicle. VTL 1225(d) bars the use of portable electronic devices while driving; this law directly applies to texting while driving but also implies the use of GPS systems, email, and other applications on mobile devices. Violation of these two laws can result in tough fines.

When a driver is pulled over for cell phone use while driving in New York, they can face hefty penalties. The following penalties are the standard for cell phone use while driving in New York State, according to research by CarInsurance.com:

Chart showing New York State penalties for cell phone use while driving

In addition to these fines, all cell phone and texting tickets in New York are subject to an $88 or $93 surcharge, depending on where the ticket is given.

Beyond legal fines, drivers who are charged with distracted driving violations may be subject to insurance increases. A texting ticket has the potential to raise a driver's insurance rates by as low as 4% and as high as 30%, according to a study by CarInsurance.com. Insurers regularly check drivers' records and will adjust their policies when changes are found. Effects will vary by insurer.

It is important to note that for all motorists, there is an exception to the use of a cell phone in the event of an urgent situation (for example, to contact emergency services).

Ultimately, a ticket for cell phone use while driving can result in large costs for drivers. Despite the tough repercussions, distracted driving remains a top concern in New York State. When people lose focus of the road, serious accidents happen.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver, seek the advice of a skilled personal injury attorney in your area. Having an experienced, skilled trial attorney on your side is an absolute necessity. Insurance companies working to defend your claim will begin their investigation immediately to minimize the payments they make to you. If you don't have a seasoned trial attorney working with you, you may not recover fair compensation for your losses.

The attorneys at Block O'Toole & Murphy understand the many dangers associated with distracted driving and are dedicated to finding justice for distracted driving accident victims. If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, please call 212-736-5300 or fill out our online contact form for a free legal consultation.