Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Tuesday that will allow police to stop and ticket drivers they see texting on the road, even when that's the only apparent violation.
Previously, police could only cite a driver for the traffic violation of distracted driving if they were stopped primarily for another offense, such as speeding.
In 2001, New York became the first state to ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. The bill signed Tuesday in Manhattan specifically bans texting on hand-held and fixed phones and other devices and includes composing, sending, reading, browsing, saving or retrieving electronic data such as email, text messages and Web pages. Exemptions include calls for emergency services. Emergency personnel such as police and firefighters are also exempt while doing their jobs.
"Distracted driving leads to tragedies that have affected families all across New York," Cuomo said in signing the bill. "This new law will help ensure that drivers keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel."
The Democratic governor said he will also use state regulations to increase the number of points for using hand-held cellphones and similar devices while driving. He will make a conviction worth three points, rather than two. A driver who amasses 11 points within 18 months could see their license suspended for 31 days or revoked.
The bill was passed by the Legislature this year. Drivers will face up to a $150 fine for texting while driving.
Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Long Island Republican, said the law finally allows traffic safety enforcement to catch up with technology. Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Nassau County Democrat who sponsored the bill with Marcellino, added: "These changes will save lives."
Syracuse was one of two Northeastern cities that were part of a pilot project involving federal and state money for stepped-up enforcement against distracted driving. The results included a 75 percent decrease in texting while driving in Hartford, Conn., and a 33 percent drop in overall distracted driving in Syracuse, based on officials who observed traffic during the pilot programs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributed 16 percent of fatal accidents in 2009 to distracted driving.