Assembly Passes Legislation to Strengthen Texting-While-Driving Penalties

madison county courier
madison county courier

(New York State – June 2013) To address the dangers of distracted driving and deter texting while driving among young drivers, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver joined with lead sponsor Assemblyman Edward Hennessey to announce Assembly passage of a bill that would strengthen penalties for texting while driving and using a hand-held cell phone. Conviction of doing either of the two would be added to the list of violations for which probationary and junior license holders would have their permit or license suspended for 60 days upon a first conviction (A.7739/Hennessey).

“Distracted driving is a dangerous, prevalent problem that affects every New Yorker and not only threatens, but has taken, far too many lives in recent years,” Silver said. “I applaud the governor for his recent initiative to discourage texting while driving, and know that here in the Assembly we are just as steadfast in our commitment to decreasing the number of distracted drivers on our roads. With the passage of Assemblyman Hennessey’s commendable legislation, the Assembly will continue action on this important issue. There is simply no text message important enough to endanger one’s life or jeopardize the lives of others.”

From 2005 to 2011, there has been an approximately 143 percent increase in cell phone-related crashes in New York State. In 2011, there were 25,165 fatal and personal injury crashes involving distracted driving in the state, compared to 4,628 caused by alcohol-related driving. Perhaps most significantly, a recent study by the Pediatric Academic Societies revealed that 43 percent of teenage drivers admit that they regularly text while they are driving.

“Texting while driving is a serious problem that has negatively impacted far too many lives,” Assemblyman Hennessey said. “I’m the father of two boys so I face these fears every day my children get into a car. We need all drivers, especially young drivers, to understand that any message they think they need to read or send can wait – their lives, as well as others, may depend on it.”

Currently, probationary and junior-licensed drivers face a 60-day suspension for traffic violations such as speeding or reckless driving. If another violation occurs within six months, probationary license drivers will have their license revoked for six months and junior-license drivers will have their license revoked for 60 days. This legislation would impose these same penalties on drivers with probationary and junior licenses for talking on a hand-held cell phone or for texting while driving.

“Despite the Assembly’s long history of working to decrease the number of distracted drivers on the road, the problem still persists,” Chair of the Assembly Committee on Transportation David Gantt said. “If you’re texting while driving, everything can change in the blink of an eye. In 2012, 11 teenagers died every day nationwide as a result of texting while driving. That’s 11 sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews whose deaths could have been prevented entirely if drivers put their phones down while they’re on the road. It’s just not worth it. This is an issue that needs to be taken care of, once and for all.”

In past years, the state Legislature has pushed through various laws to cut down on distracted driving, including the passage of a Graduated Drivers Licensing Law (Ch. 642 of 2002), which strengthened licensing requirements for drivers under the age of 18 and a law that prohibited the use of hand-held cell phones while driving (Ch. 69 of 2001). More recently laws were passed that banned the use of electronic devices while driving (Ch. 403 of 2009), instituted primary enforcement on the prohibition of use of portable electronic devices while driving (Ch. 109 of 2011) and increased fines for cell phone use while driving and texting while driving (Ch. 55 of 2013, Part C).