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New York distracted driving laws: stricter than you might expect

Driving used to be simpler. Aside from your screaming kids in the back seat and the hot coffee in your cup holder, you could focus most of your attention on the road. But as technology has advanced and your personal devices have started following you everywhere you go, your connectivity to our family and friends is virtually limitless.

Since the advent of smartphones, crashes resulting from distracted driving have skyrocketed. In New York, distracted driving killed 160 people and injured more than 33,000 in 2015 alone.

Last year, Governor Cuomo vowed to double down on distracted driving in the state. Many states have implemented a ban on texting while driving. However, New York’s prohibitions go far beyond simply texting. If you’re behind the wheel in New York, it’s your responsibility to understand the state’s traffic laws.

If you have a personal electronic device in your car, it’s almost always illegal to hold it and operate it while you’re driving.

You can’t:

  • Hold your cell phone while talking on it.
  • Write, send or view any type of message, image or website.
  • Play any type of game.

However, there are certain types of device usage that are acceptable while driving.

You can:

  • Use your device in a hands-free capacity. This includes talking on the phone using hands-free technology as well as using GPS and other functions when your phone is secured to a vehicle surface.
  • Call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency.


In many states, penalties for distracted driving amount to a slap on the wrist, but in New York, the above violations could lead to serious consequences. New York operates on a driver points system. Any distracted driving violation adds five points to your record. If you rack up 11 points over an 18-month period, your license will be suspended.

In addition, you’ll get fined up to $200 for your first offense, $250 for your second offense and $450 for your third offense. For drivers with a probationary or junior license, penalties are even more stringent.

Smartphones make it more tempting than ever to take your attention off the road while driving. But New York law enforcement is taking action to curtail such behavior. Knowing the law is one step to making safer choices behind the wheel.