The Empire State was the first in the nation to make behind-the-wheel use of a cell phone without a hands-free device a traffic infraction. Since 2001, it has been illegal for drivers in New York State to use hand-held cell phones while on the road.
But for a very long time, the only enforcement tools backing up that law were traffic tickets and $100 fines. In fact, in 2002, the state Department of Motor Vehicles considered, but decided against, including that cell phone use law in a general rule assessing two points against a traffic law violator’s driver’s license. At the time, the DMV apparently figured drivers found to have been talking with a phone in hand would likely be charged with a separate distracted-driving offense.
Drivers who accumulate 11 points within an 18-month period can lead DMV to suspend or revoke the driver’s license, and those who get six or more points over the same period must pay a “Driver Responsibility Assessment” fee $100 annually for three years, plus another $25 a year for each point over six. Driving offense convictions from out of state don’t count for New York’s point system, except for those from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, due to reciprocity agreements.
New York’s next attempt to move against the dangers of distracted driving came in 2009, when the state banned texting while driving, imposing a $150 fine and two points on the driver’s license.
Nearly a decade after New York banned driver use of hand-held cell phones, in December 2010, the DMV finally got around to proposing to charge two license points on drivers convicted of that offense. The agency’s proposal cited a Carnegie-Mellon report which found driving while using a hand-held cell phone cut driving-related brain activity by almost 40%.
Research has shown motorists who use hand-held cell phones while driving see less of the road, react more slowly to hazards, and are likely to commit driving errors, for example drifting between traffic lanes. The New York DMV has estimated a fifth or more of crashes in the state are due to distracted drivers. The two-point rule took effect in February 2011.
From that point on, though, the state DMV quickly made up for its slow start in attaching driver’s license points to cell phone infractions. In a speedy rulemaking, DMV raised the points for cell phone violations from two to five. That change took effect in June last year. So a conviction on a cell phone charge in New York now has even greater potential impact.