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New York State and local police have an eye on you. So don't even think about texting anyone or even touching that cell phone.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that police would be putting out extra patrols to enforce the state's laws governing use of cell phones and portable electronic devices while driving during the summer of 2013. He wasn't kidding.
New York's increased enforcement of distracted driving laws began over the Fourth of July weekend of 2013. The state dedicated $1 million to its efforts to catch drivers who use their phones behind the wheel. For the rest of the summer, police officers will be patrolling the roads in unmarked sport utility vehicles, called Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement vehicles, that are equipped with special enhancements to help police catch people on their phones while driving. The vehicles have been designed to ride at higher levels than other automobiles on the road so that officers can look into other vehicles to see if drivers are using cell phones or other portable electronic devices. It's like fishing in a barrel.
Citations for using cell phones or electronic devices can come with stiff penalties. As of June 1, 2013, drivers receive five points on their driving records for violating the state's cell phone use while driving laws. Drivers who accrue 11 points within 18 months face suspension of their driver's licenses.
Fines for these tickets increased on July 26, 2013. Fines for a first offense range from $50 to $150. A second offense results in a fine of $50 to $200, and the fine for a third offense can be from $50 to $400.
Additionally, those who have probationary licenses or learner permits automatically lose their driving privileges for 60 days if they receive a cell phone law violation citation. A second offense results in a six month revocation for those with probationary licenses and a 60 day revocation for those with Class DJ or MJ driver licenses or learner permits.
Theresa Juva-Brown of the Journal News reports that the campaign is in high gear. State Trooper Matthew Yorke told her he pulled over four motorists in one hour. “I find that generally people don’t dispute it. They think they are a better driver than others on the road, and they can engage in that type of activity.”
But oddly enough, Gary Biller, president of National Motorists Association, a driver advocacy group, seemed to oppose the enforcement. He said: “The NMA would rather see much of the money being spent on police spying campaigns and other heavy-handed enforcement actions be redirected to robust driver education programs that teach safe driving skills, the dangers of distracted driving, and the importance of minimizing those distractions.”
I think Biller is mistaken. Nothing changes driver behavior like a stiff fine. And those folks who got pulled over received the best education they could get, one-on-one with the state trooper who undoubtedly advised them of the risks they create for others as well as themselves. You can bet they'll be warning their family and friends not to make the same mistake.