Sanctions increased for cellphone talk, texting while driving

When new vehicle and traffic laws prohibiting hand-held cell phone use and texting while driving were enacted, the penalty originally specified two points on a driver’s license plus appropriate fines and surcharges. New York state lawmakers, recognizing the seriousness of this offense, increased the penalty for a conviction of this vehicle law to three points on Oct. 5, 2011.

Effective June 1, 2013, points were again increased, from three to five, putting violations for hand-held cellphone use and texting while driving in a similar category with reckless driving and passing a stopped school bus, all with five points. Additionally, effective on or after July 26, 2013, there are new minimum fines and increased maximum fines and surcharges as follows:

  • For a first offense, the minimum fine is $50 and the maximum increased to $150.
  • For a second offense within 18 months, the maximum fine increased to $200.
  • For a third or more offenses within 18 months, the maximum fine increased to $400.
  • The surcharge for these violations has been raised to a maximum of $93.

New suspensions and revocations for probationary and junior drivers have also changed effective July 1, 2013. For violations after this date, the following changes affect drivers with probationary licenses, Class DJ or Class MJ driver licenses or learner permits:

  • Conviction will result in suspension of the driver license or permit for 60 days.

A second such conviction within six months will result in:

  • A revocation of at least six months of a probationary license, or
  • A revocation of at least 60 days for a Class DJ or MJ driver license or permit.

The question remains as to what effect, if any, these increased sanctions will have on drivers using hand-held electronic devices. The Traffic Safety Board, in conjunction with Malone and Tupper Lake village police departments, with assistance from the state police, recently conducted enforcement details in these two villages. The detail in Malone resulted in 25 tickets being issued of which 17 were for using a cell phone while driving. In Tupper Lake, the enforcement detail resulted in five tickets, four of which were for use of hand-held cellphones. Each of these details was for only four hours in length.

The question enforcement and traffic safety officials, and lawmakers as well, are asking is what will it take to stop this grievous safety problem, if anything? If, as many traffic safety experts say, use of cellphones and texting is as dangerous as drunk driving, then we had better come up with some answers and soon. What is your opinion?

Next week’s article will review a statewide enforcement initiative on this traffic violation, including the use of unmarked police vehicles to assist in catching violators.

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board’s website at: www.franklincony.org and click on “Traffic Safety Board” under departments then look for “Did You Know” articles under “services.”