New York Get Tougher on Texting

by Jana Ritter - Published: 10/29/2013

New texting laws take effect Monday for drivers with commercial licenses, banning them from using their phones even at traffic stops. The legislation, which was passed by the state Legislature earlier this year, is similar to a law passed by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2011 on interstate truck drivers. The state law applies to intrastate travel, state officials said.

Driver texting

"This change is the vehicle and traffic law is another example of how the message is being sent that texting or using a cell phone while driving will not be tolerated in New York state," Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Barbara Fiala said in a statement.

The state Motor Truck Association said the state law is consistent with the federal law that truck drivers have been following. “The state is now requiring intrastate carriers to adhere to the same rules to which the majority of the industry has been subject since Jan. 3, 2012," said Karin White, the group's deputy director.

The texting-while-driving law for truck drivers is more stringent than for regular drivers. For regular drivers, the law only applies to when a car is in motion, a DMV spokeswoman said. The law says that an operator of commercial motor vehicle "is deemed to be 'using' a mobile telephone when such person presses more than a single button to dial or answer the phone. “Using a mobile telephone "in such a manner" by a commercial driver "is not deemed to be a 'hands-free device,'" the law says. The law also forbids a commercial driver from using a cell phone or a "portable electronic device while the vehicle is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays."

A violation would lead to charges and a mandatory suspension of a commercial driver's license, the law says. It's the latest toughening of laws regarding distracted driving in New York. In July, Cuomo signed into law a bill that increases the penalty from three to five points on a license for texting. The new law also adds texting while driving to the infractions for probationary and junior licenses that can lead to a suspension for 60 days.

In 2011, Cuomo and the Legislature made texting a primary offense, meaning police can pull someone over specifically for texting behind the wheel. It's led to a surge in tickets. Through mid-October, there were more than 43,000 tickets issued for texting, compared to 30,000 in all of 2012. The total includes 24,000 in New York City and 19,000 in the rest of the state, figures from the state DMV showed.

On Monday, Michigan's Vehicle code was also updated to make it illegal for commercial drivers like Feuquay to hold a phone up to their ear while in route unless they're using hands-free devices.