2013 saw a huge increase in texting while driving tickets in New York State. There has been a contemporaneous increase in enforcement and the penalties for this traffic infraction since the law was first instituted in 2009. This past year, there were 82% more tickets issued in New York City, and an 89% increase in the counties outside of the City. In almost half of New York’s 62 counties, (26), texting tickets more than doubled. Statewide, police wrote approximately 55,000 texting while driving tickets in 2013, compared with 30,000 in 2012.
In specific counties, Westchester County police issued 2,000 texting infractions last year, which was the most other than Suffolk County outside of New York City. Monroe County came in 3rd at almost 2,000, which was 77% more than 2012, and in fourth place was Erie County. In Dutchess County, the number of texting tickets increased more than 50% from 419 to 854 from 2012 to 2013, and in Rockland County, the increase was even greater, jumping from 193 in 2012 to 494 in 2013. In order to assist in enforcement, police are utilizing taller SUV’s and watching traffic from higher vantage points so that they can look down on drivers who they suspect of texting.
Interestingly, as texting tickets have soared, the number of tickets written for using a cellphone while driving has decreased in each of the last five years. In 2009, police issued 342,000 hand held cellphone tickets, and that number was at 207,000 in 2013, reduced from 217,000 the year before.
Since 2009, when the law first went into effect, the penalties for texting infractions were much less stringent. To begin with, texting while driving was a “secondary offense”, which meant to charge an operator with the offense, the police had to determine that he or she had committed another infraction such as speeding or following too closely. In 2011, the law was amended by the New York State legislature to change texting while driving to a primary offense, and the points imposed were increased from 2 to 3. In 2013, the fines were increased, and the points increased to five.
According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the conviction rate for texting offenses in 2012 was 66%, and the conviction rate for handheld cellphone usage was 73%. The Cohen’s Children’s Center on Long Island reported last spring that more than 3,000 teenage drivers are killed each year as a result of testing while driving. Due to the epidemic of texting while driving, particularly with younger drivers, Governor Cuomo is proposing that drivers under the age of 21 lose their licenses for one year (presently it is six months) if they are convicted of texting while driving. If that proposal is implemented by the NYS legislature, New York would have the strongest texting while driving penalties in the United States.