Articles Posted in N.Y. Legislative Summary

Effective this past Monday, November 4, 2013, New York’s Vehicle & Traffic Law has been amended to toughen the penalties on truck drivers and other commercial drivers who use their cell phones while driving. These license holders will no longer be permitted to use a mobile device to make a call, text, or send an email, even if the driver is temporarily stopped in traffic, at a stop sign, or traffic light, of for any other reason. The new texting law applies to intrastate travel in the State of New York. It states that “using” a mobile device is defined as when a person “presses more than a single button to dial or answer the phone.”
The law is different for non-commercial drivers, who can only be flagged for a violation of the cell phone and texting laws if their vehicle is in motion.

The penalties for a violation of the modified section of the Vehicle & Traffic law are substantial, including a mandatory suspension of the commercial driver’s license!

In July of this year, Governor Cuomo signed into law an increase in the points imposed for texting while driving infractions from 3 points to 5 points, which is almost half of the 11 points on a license resulting in a suspension. The July amendment also added texting while driving to list of violations which can result in a 60 day suspension for probationary and junior licenses.

In 2011, texting while driving was made a primary violation by the New York State legislature, (meaning that a police officer could issue a ticket for a texting infraction without another moving violation such as speeding or following too closely). As a result of that change, there was a huge increase in texting while driving tickets around New York State, from 30,000 in 2012 to approximately 43,000 thus far in 2013. The 43,000 issued this year include 24,000 in the City of New York and 19,000 in the remainder of New York State.

In Westchester County, there were 975 texting tickets issued in 2012 and 1,570 to date in 2013. Other counties such as Dutchess have almost doubled texting while driving tickets this year, going from 419 last year to 726 at present in 2013.

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New York Assemblyman David Weprin has proposed a law banning smoking with children in the car. The bill stalled in the New York State Assembly last year, but will be reconsidered this August. The statute is designed to protect children from the dangers of secondhand smoke. If the law passes, New York would join Arkansas, California, Louisiana and Maine as the fifth state to ban smoking with children in the vehicle.

The law would ban adults from smoking with children under the age of 14 in the car. Violators would be fined $100. There are no defenses to this regulation. It would apply regardless of whether the driver is the parent of the child or not. Further, rolling down the windows will not absolve the driver of the law.

The NY Daily News reports Assemblyman David Weprin saying, “The bill doesn’t violate constitutional rights … and is similar to seat-belt laws and bans on texting while driving. If cops believe a driver is in violation, they can stop the vehicle and question the passengers’ ages.”

Smoking with child in the car was previously banned in Rockland County. “The Rockland County Kids In Cars Smoking Safety Act,” is a local law prohibiting smoking in vehicles with children under the age of 18. The first violation is a criminal violation, punishable by a fine up to $150.00. Subsequent violations are punishable by a fine of as much as $250.00.

Nassau County is considering a similar bill. The bill, proposed by New York State Legislators Judi Bosworth and Judy Jacobs, would make it illegal to smoke in the car with a child under the age of 18. However, the proposed Nassau law has major teeth in it—violators would pay a hefty $1,000 fine!

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The story is well known by now if you have followed the news over the last three months. On June 9, 2008, two year old Caylee Marie Anthony went missing in Orlando, Florida. Her Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, did not report Caylee missing. It wasn’t until July 16, 2008 that Caylee’s grandmother reported Caylee the young girl’s disappearance. That same day, Casey Anthony was arrested and charged with first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter, and aggravated child abuse.

On May 24, 2011, the criminal trial began in Orlando. After more than a month of testimony by approximately 100 witnesses, and 400 pieces of evidence, on July 5, 2011, the jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse. However, Anthony was found guilty of four counts of providing false information to law enforcement.

Judge Belvin Perry gave Anthony the maximum sentence of one year each for 4 counts of giving false information to authorities. In addition, he sentenced Ms. Anthony to the maximum fine of $4,000, representing a $1,000 penalty for each count she was convicted of. With time served, and credit for good behavior, Casey Anthony was released on Sunday, July 17, 2011. Although Anthony asked to be immediately released, the judge made his displeasure known: “As a result of those four specific, distinct lies, law enforcement expended great time and resources looking for Caylee Marie Anthony,” Judge Perry declared.

In New York, falsely reporting an incident carries a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail, and a fine up to $5,000. Currently, it is a class A misdemeanor to fail to report a child missing in New York. However, New York State Senator Andrew Lanza is seeking to change this. Lanza is planning on introducing a “Caylee’s Law”, which would make it a class E felony for a parent or guardian to fail to report a child missing within 24 hours of their disappearance. New York Assemblywoman Grace Meng is also working on a similar statute. In her version, it would be a felony if a parent, guardian, or caretaker fails to report a missing child “within a timely manner.”

Since the July 5, 2011 verdict, Florida and more than 15 other states have proposed a form of “Caylee’s Law.” There is also a proposed federal version of Caylee’s Law that would make it a felony to wait more than 24 hours to report a missing child, and a felony not to report the death of a child within one hour. A petition by citizens around the country to create this law has apparently garnered more than 1.2 million signatures.

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Those of us (and there are many out there) know that in the past, a New York traffic infraction for driving while speaking or texting on a cell phone involved a fine, but no points on your driver’s license. In the wake of the significant increase in distracted driving accidents, the days of no points are over. In an amendment to Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1225-c effective today, February 16, 2011, if you are convicted of or plead guilty to driving while speaking on a cell phone, as well as texting while driving, you will now be assessed two points on your license in addition to paying the associated fines.

The fine for a cell phone violation is $100, along with a Court surcharge which can run as high as $85.00. The fine for a texting while driving infraction is $150.00. According to NYSDMV statistics, distracted driving is involved in one of five crashes in New York State.

11 points on a New York State driver’s license within an 18 month period leads to a suspension of the license.

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In November of 2009, Governor David Paterson signed into law a ban of texting while driving. However, the legislation was quickly criticized by highway safety organizations and local New York state law enforcement officials as it made texting while driving a “secondary offense.” Inotherwords, a motorist who violated the law could only be stopped by the police if they were also violating another traffic regulation, such as speeding, following too closely or disregarding a traffic control device.

Recognizing quickly that the new law had no “teeth”, Governor Paterson introduced a modified statute in February of this year to make the texting ban a primary offense, by which the police could more easily enforce the law. To date, the new texting legislation had been stalled, but recently, legislation passed the New York State Assembly, and according to a report by Joseph Spector in the Journal News on July 7, 2010, the law could possibly pass the New York State Senate as early as next week. The minimum fine for a violation of the present law is $150.00.

The original impetus for the statute came about from the tragic deaths of several teen drivers who were driving while texting, including five teen age girls from Monroe County who died in June of 2007. In that accident, police investigators determined through phone records that the driver was in the process of texting when her vehicle struck a tractor trailer. According to the Governors Highway Association, 30 states have banned texting while driving, but only New York, Iowa, Nebraska and Virginia have the violation as a secondary offense.

We will follow developments on the texting legislation and report on any modifications of the law in the near future after the New York State Senate votes on the statute.

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New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is co-sponsoring a bill to require that teenagers be 18 years of age before they obtain full driving privileges. At present, when a teen turns 17 in New York and completes a driver’s ed class, he or she can obtain a senior license. According to Gillibrand, she is seeking to reduce teenage driver deaths and serious injuries. New York has approximately 230,000 drivers aged 16 or 17, and statistically, these drivers are most likely to die in a fatal motor vehicle crash. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that for 15-20 year olds, there were 3,467 deaths and 281,000 injuries in 2005, and that car crashes were the number one cause of death.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has reported that increasing the teen driver’s age by one year reduces deaths by 13% per 100,000 teenagers. If the bill were to pass, it would have the most dramatic impact in western states such as South Dakota, which permits teens to drive without supervision at 14 1/2, and Idaho and Montana, who allow unsupervised drivers at age 15.

The legislation will be voted on early next year as part of the highway reauthorization bill.

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Westchester County has enacted Local Law 12, 2008, which makes it illegal to compose, read, or send text messages while operating any type of motor vehicle, including automobiles, trucks, vans, and construction vehicles. The law will take effect on March 10, 2009. This is certainly welcome news to those of us (this writer included) who have had to swerve their car out of the path of a wayward driver who appears to be either texting someone or checking his or her messages or e-mails.

The New York State Assembly has been considering legislation banning drivers from sending or reading text messages after a tragic June, 2007 accident in which five teenage girls were killed in a head on collision with a tractor-trailer in Rochester, New York. The investigation of the accident established that text messages were sent and received from the 17 year old driver’s cell phone just seconds before the fatal accident in New York.

Westchester Local Law 12 is entitled “Use of Wireless Handsets to Compose, Read or Send Text Messages While Operating a Motor Vehicle” and states as follows:

No person shall use a wireless handset to compose, read or send text messages while operating a motor vehicle on any public street or public highway within the County of Westchester. Cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA’s), and other portable electronic or computing devices capable of transmitting data in the form of a text message are considered “wireless handsets.” A violation of the law is punishable by a fine not exceeding $150.00 for each violation. Exempt from the law are law enforcement officers, EMT’s, fire safety officials in the course of their duties, and people who are contacting police, EMT’s or fire safety officers, or persons using a wireless handset in a vehicle which is stopped or parked, and is removed from the flow of traffic.

If New York joins New Jersey, California and Washington State in enacting a statewide ban on texting while driving, the Westchester law will become null and void.

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