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Cell phone, texting laws explained

May 21, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Last week's "Did You Know" article discussed the major problem we have with driver distraction resulting from the prolific use of cell phones and texting while driving, and asked the rhetorical question "Can we stop it?" Today's article will review the Vehicle and Traffic Laws that apply to both cell phone use and to other electronic devices, including texting while driving.

Cell phones: New York State was the first state in the nation to pass a ban on cell phone use when article 1225-c of NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law became effective in 2001. Essentially, this law prohibits the driver of any motor vehicle from using a hand-held cell phone while the vehicle is in motion. However, the use of a hands-free cell phone is allowed.

Other exceptions, where even a hand-held cell phone is allowed include:

For the sole purpose of communicating in an emergency situation, such as with an emergency response operator, a hospital, a doctor's office or health clinic, an ambulance company, a fire department, or a police department.

Police officers, fire department personnel, and the operators of an authorized emergency vehicle while in the performance of their official duties.

However, studies have shown that it is the phone conversation itself that is most distracting rather than the act of holding it to one's ear. Therefore, even though it is legal to drive and talk on a hands-free phone, it is strongly advisable to pull over to the side of the road and stop, and then carry on your conversation.

Texting: In New York, article 1225-d became effective on November 1, 2009, and effectively banned the use of portable electronic devices while operating a moving vehicle. A "portable electronic device" is defined as a hand-held mobile telephone, personal digital assistant, handheld device with mobile data access, laptop computer, pager, broadband personal communication device, two-way messaging device, electronic game, or portable computing device. Thus this law bans much more than just "texting".

A driver is in violation of this law if he or she is "holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving email, text messages, or other electronic data". A violation is punishable by a fine up to $150 plus a surcharge of $80-$85.

Like the hand-held phone law, it is not a violation of the texting law if the portable electronic device is used for the sole purpose of communicating in an emergency situation.

As much as we believe we are capable of multi-tasking while driving, the statistics prove otherwise. Be a conscientious driver and save your phoning and texting for times when you are not driving.

For more traffic safety information, go to our website at

Dave Werner can be reached at



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