NY increases texting penalty for junior drivers

Cuomo approves tougher 60-day suspensions of junior licenses for texting while driving

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York's young drivers now face a 60-day suspension when caught texting or using a hand-held cellphone on the road under a law Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Monday.

Those traffic violations already carried fines.

"We want young drivers to know this is not OK," Cuomo said. "Inattention and inexperience can be a death sentence."

The legislation approved by the Senate and Assembly applies to drivers with permits and probationary or junior licenses. Such drivers now face a 60-day suspension for a first offense. A second conviction within six months will revoke a probationary license for six months and a junior license for another 60 days.

The number of cellphone-related crashes more than doubled from 2005 to 2011, New York state reported.

"The obsession and addiction of using cellphones in cars endangers the lives and safety of every driver on the road," said state Sen. Charles Fuschillo, a Long Island Republican and bill sponsor who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. "It has to stop."

Under Cuomo's direction a month ago, the Department of Motor Vehicles also raised the number of license points for any driver's conviction for improper cellphone use from three to five, the same as for reckless driving or illegally passing a stopped school bus. Getting 11 points within 18 months results in a suspended license.

"Five points is a lot of points," Cuomo said. "This is not just a young people's problem."

According to the state statistics, New York recorded 25,165 crashes with deaths or injuries involving distracted driving in 2011, compared with 4,628 caused by alcohol.

Last year, 30,166 tickets were issued for texting while driving, up 234 percent from a year earlier, compared with 43,954 arrests for driving while intoxicated or impaired, down 4 percent.

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