New York Anti-Text Message Laws
April 14, 2010
In the fall of 2001 former New York Governor, George Pataki, signed a bill forbidding drivers from talking on their cell phones while driving. New York was the first state to enact such a law. The only exception to this law was that drivers could use hands free microphones (or a Bluetooth nowadays). Beginning on December 1, 2001 any driver in the state of New York caught talking on his or her cell phone while driving would be issued a ticket for $100.
As the first state to enact such a law New York received a lot of attention. Eventually, several other states followed in New York’s footsteps and passed similar laws of their own. However, in the years following the passage of New York’s cell phone law a new communication trend began. Text messages and the use of other hand held communication devices were becoming increasingly popular. Unfortunately, New York’s Law did not prohibit texting and driving. It only banned talking and driving.
The first momentous push for a Text Messaging Ban began in June of 2007. In Upstate New York five teenage girls were in an SUV headed down the highway. When the driver suddenly veered into oncoming traffic and collided with a big rig. While investigating the crash, it was discovered that the driver had sent and received text messages in the moments before the crash. All five girls died in the crash, only a few days after they graduated high school.
Many counties feared similar crashes would take place without a law banning texting while driving. Since, it was not going to be enforced on a state level many counties took matters into their own hands. In 2008, Westchester and Nassau counties were among the first to pass laws. Westchester County started an education campaign in local high schools to inform new drivers of the law. County officials felt the law would benefit younger drivers. The younger, more inexperienced drivers were part of the text message generation and they felt a ban on text messaging while driving help new drivers pay attention.
On August 27, 2009 Governor David Paterson signed a bill that would finally ban drivers from text messaging while driving on a statewide level. In addition to text messaging the law also bans the use of any portable electronic devices while driving. The law was put into effect on November 1, 2009 and breaking the law results in a fine of up to $150.
However, the law is considered a secondary offense. Meaning, if a cop sees a driver text messaging while stuck in traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway the cop cannot pull the driver over and issue him or her a ticket. If however, the cop witness the driver speeding on the BQE and text messaging the driver can be pulled over and issued a ticket for both offenses.
On February 24, 2010 Governor Paterson proposed a change to the new law. He recommends the law be changed from a secondary law to primary law. The change would mean that the police officer who sees a driver text messaging while stuck in traffic can pull the driver without needing to find other reason. If the ban becomes a primary law, New York would not be the first state to raise the ban on text messaging from a secondary to primary law. Washington State Senate has already approved the switch from secondary to primary.