Drivers who text behind the wheel in New York now run little risk of being pulled over by the police, but that would change under a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The governor said Friday that he plans to introduce a bill that would make distracted driving a primary offense, which would allow officers to pull over motorists seen typing on their phones or other handheld devices while operating a vehicle.
Right now, the violation is considered a secondary offense in New York, meaning a driver would have to be doing something else wrong for an officer to make a traffic stop.
Officers around the state have still managed to write some tickets, but the approximately 3,200 violations issued statewide last year for texting behind the wheel are just a fraction of the more than 331,000 issued for talking on a cell phone while driving.
"Every day, countless drivers, particularly teenagers and young adults, drive with their eyes on a screen rather than the road," Cuomo said in a statement. "We need to impose a true deterrent to stop people from driving while using an electronic device and to keep our roads and citizens safe."
The fine would stay the same, at up to $150, but offenders would also get three points added to their driver's history record, rather than two. That would raise the seriousness of the violation to the equivalent of running a stop sign, and could lead to higher insurance payments for drivers.
Federal authorities have also encourages states to address the problem. New York is now one of only a handful of states that don't make texting while driving a primary offense.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement that Cuomo's proposal would "help save lives and put a stop to dangerous distracted driving behavior on New York roads."
Typing on dashboard-mounted GPS units would still be allowed under the law.
Cuomo's predecessor, David Paterson, made a similar proposal last year, but the legislature took no action.