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Distracted Driving Laws in New York: What You Should Know

Drivers have a responsibility to always be alert and aware. If they are distracted, they could cause serious injury to themselves and others. There are specific laws designed to prevent distracted driving, most of them revolving around electronics use. With the cultural rise in cellphones, there are more and more cases of car accidents involving people texting or talking while driving.

When someone breaks traffic laws, their penalties are handled by the criminal justice system. Most traffic laws are punishable with citations and tickets. Truly egregious behaviors result in arrests. Examples would be driving under the influence or reckless driving.

As helpful as criminal justice is, it doesn’t always protect someone from distracted driving. Some behaviors are perfectly legal, even when they keep a driver unfocused. If you’ve been harmed by someone who wasn’t paying attention, you may need to seek justice another way. This is where civil court comes in. Even if someone wasn’t directly breaking the law, they could be held accountable for their negligent behavior. In this article, we will explore both the legal and civil aspects of distracted driving.

Illegal Distracted Driving

The vast majority of New York laws on distracted driving focus on electronic devices. Since the early 2000s, New York police have strongly enforced laws against cellphones and other electronic items while driving. Driving while using a cellphone, even to just talk, is a primary offense. In traffic law, there are primary and secondary offenses. A primary offense gives police the authority to pull you over. Secondary offenses can be cited if you are already pulled over.

Exceptions are made for emergencies. Drivers may use phones to call 911, and emergency responders may use electronic devices to perform their duties.

It is not just cellphones that are affected by this law. Handheld games, tablets, movie or TV screens of any kind, and similar items are all prohibited while operating a car. Interestingly, New York does allow citizens to text while at a red light. Many other states prohibit this behavior. Some even go so far as to disallow cellphone use while parked in a parking lot.

To talk while driving, you must use a hands-free device. Bluetooth comes standard on many cars these days, so that is the best way to talk on the phone. New York does allow the use of earphones or earbuds, but only in one ear.

Beyond the use of electronics, police must use their discretion to cite for other types of distracted driving. There are many other ways a driver could be preoccupied. They could be eating, applying makeup, looking at themselves in a sun visor mirror, and so forth. If police see these behaviors and believe they affected your driving, they can cite you. Drivers could also unintentionally implicate themselves, telling police that they were distracted.

Legal Penalties

In New York, distracted driving penalties are compounded with each offense that occurs within 18 months. Each offense adds five points to a license. The direct penalties are financial.

  • 1st offense: $50 – $200 fine
  • 2nd offense: $50 – $250 fine
  • 3rd offense: $50 – $450 fine

Distracted Driving and Personal Injury

If you were injured by a distracted driver, you may be able to take the matter to a civil court. If the driver was doing something illegal, such as texting, you could file a strict liability claim. Also known as “absolute liability,” this standard means that you must prove, in court, that the driver was breaking the law. This could be easy to do if the driver had already been cited or arrested for their behavior.

Again, there are legal behaviors that can still distract a driver. In that situation, you must sue for negligence. Drivers should be aware while operating a vehicle. Even if their actions were legal, they could have still been negligent. Your lawyer will investigate the situation. If they find that the driver was distracted, this fact can be used against the driver in a negligence claim. Civil court requires a “preponderance of evidence” to prove negligence. Essentially, if your lawyer can demonstrate that the defendant was 51% or more likely to have been distracted, you could win the case.

In a personal injury case, you can receive financial compensation for your injuries in the form of “damages.” Damages can cover the financial loss of your injuries. Medical bills, lost wages, and lost potential earnings could be compensated. You can also receive damages for your pain and suffering. Suffering is not always physical. People who sustain an injury can have emotional trauma as well. It is possible to receive financial compensation for your emotional distress.

We are here to help if you’ve been injured by a distracted driver. For a free consultation, call us today at (607) 228-8404, or contact us online.

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