Texting behind the wheel will now get you a bigger penalty.
Last Friday state legislation became effective which increased fines for texting-while-driving and using a cell phone while driving.
For a first offense, the maximum fine increases to $150; for a second offense committed within 18 months, it is now $200; and for a third or subsequent offense committed within 18 months, the maximum fine jumps to $400. The minimum fine for all is $50.
The fines come after the Department of Motor Vehicles increased the number of points earned against an individual’s driving record upon conviction for texting while driving and cell-phone related infractions from three to five as of June 1.
The new law imposes the same penalties on drivers with probationary and junior licenses for texting while driving and using a handheld cell phone that they would receive for speeding and reckless driving: 60-day suspensions for first convictions, and for convictions within six months of a suspended license being restored, revocations of junior licenses for 60 days, or six months for probationary licenses.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), a supporter of the bill, said the law is, “certainly a step in the right direction for safety purposes.”
“We can go further,” Addabbo added, noting that there are other things that distract drivers, such as eating, reading and putting on makeup while driving. He said there might be broader legislation pertaining to that down the road.
“It takes a fraction of a second to possibly cause an accident or injury,” Addabbo said.
Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder (D-Howard Beach), a co-sponsor of the distracted driving legislation, said he was proud to have joined his colleagues in supporting and voting for sweeping changes and implementing stricter penalties that he said will deter drivers from texting behind the wheel to ensure the safety of the state’s roadways.
“Too many accidents are caused by distracted drivers and the signing of this bill will finally change the law and save countless lives,” said Goldfeder.
The American Automobile Association of New York agrees.
“The new penalties reflect the extreme danger of texting while driving, which is a manipulative, visual and cognitive distraction — a trifecta of dangerous activities,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for the AAA of New York. “Credit goes to Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature for enacting the toughest anti-distracted driving law in the nation.
Cuomo signed the bill into law July 1.
There was also agreement among area residents who were interviewed that the new penalties were needed to curb distracted driving.
Judy Ascherman, who drives to her job in Howard Beach, said that distracted driving causes accidents.
“As a driver I think it’s terrible that people are texting while driving,” she said. “Hopefully, when the penalties are higher maybe it will teach some people not to do it.”
She said that the penalties must come with increased enforcement.
“If there’s nobody to enforce it, it’s not going to help,” she noted.
Howard Beach resident Matty Cordova, who has been driving for 56 years, who also agrees with the new law, said the penalties should be even higher — $500 for the first offense. She said she does a lot of highway driving and sees people going 55 to 60 mph and looking down to text.
“If you honk your horn because they are coming into your side because they are distracted, they get nasty,” she said.
Toby Ratner of Lindenwood, while agreeing that texting while driving is dangerous, admitted that a close family member has, on occasion, texted while she drives. Ratner said the relative told her she only texts when it is necessary. However, Ratner said she has reprimanded her, telling her that she hopes she gets a fine.
Ratner noted that a person who is texting and not looking at the road might not see a child crossing the street. She has also warned her grandson, who will be driving next year, not to text or talk on his cell phone when he drives.
Lindenwood resident Ellie Greenberg said it makes her blood boil when she sees motorists being distracted while using their cell phones.
“They really don’t care,” she said. “They should have stiffer penalties.”
Greenberg said she feels the $150 fine in the law for the first offense is not a sufficient deterrent. She agrees with Cordova that it should be raised to $500.
“If they fine them $500, maybe it would sink in,” she suggested.